Complete the following sentence:

"Corporate reports/presentations are _____ "

What do you say? Boring? The worst? Debilitating? Annoying? Not engaging? That's how I often feel...

Search the internet for tips on how to create killer presentations and you'll discover only inapplicable content. I am ready to present with font-size 30, less than 5 words on a slide and a giant image in the background... but 99% of my clients wouldn't find it funny at all. In an effort to teach/coach my teams, I  summarized what I would to to improve the classical  Powerpoint-slides-powered presentations I got to endure once too many. This post won't turn you into Toast Master. But it will help you avoid the easy mistakes and level up your corporate reporting presentations.

Edit: I wrote a 5 part series about my talks creation workflow a few years back. This series was not focused on the corporate side of presentations, but you will find a bunch of useful tips in this context anyway.

Before you start, think!

Tip1: What are the 1-3 takeaways that you want to get across?

This  may sound obvious. You are gifted X minutes of all the attendee's life. They will never get those minutes back. Do you feel the burden on your shoulders? The burden to make good use of them?

Make a list of the 1-3 takeaways of your presentation. Measure the output of it against those.

Can you summarize each takeaway with 15 words or less? No? Go back to the board, those are not small/precise enough.

Tip2: Know your audience, focus on their needs

Make a list of all the kind of people attending your presentation. For instance: developers, testers, program managers and line managers.

Then vet your takeaways based on their respective knowledge. If each group gets benefits from each takeaway, then you are fine.

If you feel that one group needs some more input to understand something, make a note of it. Then you can consider lowering the bar during your presentation, to better include those persons. For instance, give a very quick overview of a technical problem to let the line managers catch up with the issue.

Tip3: Concentrate on your core message

Don't bloat the presentation because you can. What if you can get the point across in 5 minutes, but your timebox is 15? Don't push it. Keep your content to a minimum. Add as many information as required for anyone to profit from your takeaways.

Having too little to say is rarely a problem though. Keeping things short is usually way harder than making it long... as summarized by the mathematician Blaise Pascal:

"If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter."

A few years ago, I did the following experiment with a few colleagues:

  • Pick a topic you know nothing about (from Thoughtworks Technology Radar)
  • Google/Bing/DuckDuck-it for 30 minutes
  • Present what you learned for 5 minutes maximum

Result: 90% of my colleagues went overtime.

KISS as we say in the software development world:

Keep It Simple, Stupid

Just what need to be said, not a word more!

Tip4: Speeches are about stories

Whatever neat slides or cool graphic you can come up with, you will never beat a good story. And a good story starts with a person. If the attendee can relate to the experience you are talking about, you have won. It doesn't have to be big. It doesn't have to be convoluted. It has to be relatable.

I recently saw a developer show the very short video a customer took to show us how to reproduce a bug. The bug was indeed nasty. But the way to get there was even worse. I could feel the pain in the room. As was every developers, that had been in that debugging seat before. That was an attention catcher.

Speak from the heart. Tell your story. Transfer emotion instead of words. If you want others to learn from your mistakes for instance, don't try to talk to their brains, talk to their hearts.

Tip5: Highlight & repeat what’s most important

Remember those 1-3 takeaways? You think mentioning them once is enough? Hammer them down. 1, 2, 3, 10 times if need be. The more you need to imprint it in the brains of your attendees, the more you need to rehash them. Use transitions to summarize what you learned up to now before adding a new element. Use questions to the audience to bring back the previous points once in a while. And don't forget to wrap your talk up with the points that should be taken out of it.

Tip6: Start strong

I loath talks that start with 5 minutes of legitimating the speaker.

Hi, I am Bob, first of all I apologize for the quality of the slides, I only had 24 hours to come up with this presentation. Today I want to present about DevOps, which is the thing I have been doing for the past 3 years. Previously, I worked for BlagOps, a company taking ops very seriously, and OpsIncorporated where I learned all about DevOps, as well as... zzzZZzzzZZZzzZZZZZzZZzzzzzzzz.....

You lost me. Start with a BANG instead:

Have I ever told you the story of how I rushed out of a club with my date to investigate a crash in production, to find her sleeping 30 minutes later when I finally finished putting the site back online?

Or

I spent the last 3 days investigating a customer bug. The cause was so unexpected that only a cat walking on my keyboard could have triggered it. And it almost did...

Now you got me hooked. Bring it on!

And you need to come up with this story pretty early on. Because it will give the tone of the presentation.

Tip7: Call to action

At the end of the presentation, you need to finish with a BANG. In this case, a call to action. The attendees never remember much of what you said. If you did your job right, they will remember the 1-3 takeaways you hammered down in their brains. If you want to increase the chances of your attendees acting on those takeaways, give them something to do. Give them an exercise. Give them some homework. Bring them to doing something right away.


In a next post, we will have a look at your Powerpoint slides. Stay tunes and let me know what else I should post about.


Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash