Let me tell you a story…

That’s the way my strategy professor at business school introduced us to vision and mission.  And that’s what the most effective presentations do, IMO: tell a story.  However, many of us technical and semi-technical folks feel nothing but fear and trembling when we’re asked to “put together a deck.”

To that end, Jonathan Becher here passes along some great tips on creating compelling presentations from Nancy Duarte.  Duarte makes three points that Jonathan summarizes neatly. We too often:

  1. Try to make presentations serve as documentation.
  2. Skimp on preparation.
  3. Misuse or ignore visual design principles.

While I haven’t read the book, the post’s summary and the video clip sure make it sound appealing.  In particular, I like the practical guidance — e.g., the “Post It” approach — that Jonathan passes along.  I can testify to this method’s effectiveness in condensing thoughts into single points, which can then be moved around into a coherent story.

PM Quote of the Day — Baldassare Castiglione

Employ in everything a certain casualness which conceals art and creates the impression that what is done and said is accomplished without effort and without its being thought about.

I used to believe that sprezzatura — the “unstudied nonchalance” Castiglione describes in The Book of the Courtier — must be something one is born with.  A hint about the truth is in Castiglione’s own words: “which conceals art and creates the impression….”

My closest partner in a business school entrepreneurship project was an experienced and accomplished sales executive.  He appeared so fluid and at ease when selling an idea, advancing a position, or pitching a business plan.   But his apparently innate grace was actually quite studied.  For example, when prepping for a sales call, he dedicated hours, even days, to careful preparation.  I was a bit shocked at the effort he insisted on for all our project’s communications; I had always thought sales folks winged it most of the time. 

This approach came in handy when we delivered our new venture pitch.  It took us weeks to revise the story line, refine the presentation, and familiarize ourselves with every nook and cranny of the venue.  At showtime, our delivery was notably more polished and assured than our competitors. 

But the real benefit was when something unexpected came up on one slide: an “obvious” typo.  I knew the material so well that I didn’t freeze.  With a sense of ease and comfort, I simply talked to the slide’s point.  Well, with one twist…

We’re have a pilot customer lined up — insert Company Name here — and we’re going to start the implementation shortly… just as soon as we learn to spell obvious.

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