Putting the “Present” Back in Presentations

Jan 24, 2019

By Nancy Duarte

Today’s technology—especially social media—enables constant (some might say, relentless) communication. However, because we are so inundated with messages, true communication doesn’t always take place. At a time when people are tweeting, texting, blogging, and e-mailing, and more, 24/7, what is the best way to genuinely connect and create change?  I believe, quite simply, it is via human, in-person presentations.

Really great presentations are like magic. The ability to captivate an audience—whether a crowd at a formal event or a client across the conference room table—is empowering. It can provide a huge competitive edge in a business environment where too many companies confuse communication with noise.

The S.T.A.R. System
So, how do you know when you’re presenting information in a way that truly resonates with your audience? If people can easily recall, repeat, and transfer your message, you did a great job conveying it. To achieve this, you should include a handful of succinct, clear, and repeatable sound bytes that people can easily remember. A thoroughly considered sound byte can create a “Something They'll Always Remember” (S.T.A.R.) moment—not only for the people physically present in the audience but also for the ones who will encounter your message through broadcast or social media channels.

Here are a few tips to help you create presentations that will really stick with your audiences:

  • Create crisp messages. Imagine that each person you speak to is a little radio tower, empowered to broadcast your key concepts over and over. That’s exactly how social network super users function—some may have over 50,000 followers in their social networks. When they send one sound byte to their followers, it may be re-sent hundreds of thousands of times.
  • Craft a rallying cry. This is a small, repeatable phrase that can become the slogan and rallying cry of the masses trying to promote your idea. For example, President Obama's campaign slogan, “Yes We Can,” originated from a speech during the primary elections.
  • Coordinate key phrases with the same language in your press materials. For presentations where the press is present, be sure to repeat critical messages verbatim from your press materials. Doing so ensures that the press will pick up the right sound bytes. The same is true for any camera crews who might be filming your presentation. Make sure you have at least a 15 to 30 second message that is so salient it will be obvious to reporters that they should feature it in their broadcasts.
  • Use catchy words. Take time to carefully craft a few messages with catchy words. For example, Neil Armstrong used the six hours and forty minutes between his moon landing and first step to craft his historic statement. Phrases that have historical significance or become headlines don't just magically appear in the moment; they are mindfully planned.
  • Make them remember. Once you've crafted your message, there are three ways to ensure the audience will remember it: First, repeat the phrase more than once. Second, punctuate it with a pause that gives the audience time to write down exactly what you said. Finally, project the words on a slide to reinforce the words visually.
  • Imitate a famous phrase. Everyone knows the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” An imitation of that famous phrase might be, “Never give a presentation you wouldn't want to sit through yourself.”

Remember, the future isn't just a place you'll go; it's a place you will invent. Your ability to shape your future depends on how well you communicate the details of where you want go. When you communicate ideas effectively, people follow. Carefully framed spoken words are the most powerful means of communication there is.

About the Author(s)

Nancy Duarte is CEO of Duarte Design (www.duarte.com) in Silicon Valley, one of the few agencies focused solely on presentations, whether delivered in person, online, or via mobile device. She is the author of Resonate: Present Visual Stories That Transform Audiences (Wiley, 2010) and the award-winning book Slide:ology.