Three Ways To Simplify Your Presentations
by Andrea Pacini —
Many business owners, leaders and professionals give presentations that are too complex. The consequence is that the audience fails to grasp the message and will not take the desired action.
I believe that the more you say, the less your audience will remember. So you need to keep your presentations short, simple and to the point.
Keeping it simple is one of the five key factors behind any powerful presentation. If you are interested in learning more about the others, I have written about them here.
In 1996 Guinness released their slightly surreal ‘Fish on a Bicycle’ advert. It finished with the slogan “a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle” over a shot of a fish riding a bike.
That image has always stuck with me. The point is that fish do not need bicycles. And maybe women don’t need us men! It’s the same with your presentations. The audience doesn’t need everything you think they might.
Whilst it might seem counterintuitive, taking away details from your presentation will make it stronger and more impactful.
Eliminate the unnecessary so the necessary can flourish. This will make it more likely that your audience will understand you, remember you, and act upon your ideas.
So how do you put all this into practice? Here are three tips to make your presentations simple yet effective.
Tip 1: Simplify Your Message
At Ideas on Stage we previously worked with Luc Bretones, a former Executive Vice President at Orange. He once said: “I only remember one thing from a pitch, just tell me what I need to know.”
Think about your next presentation: what’s your one thing? If you were to summarise the core idea behind your next presentation in one message, what would you say?
A useful exercise is to distil what you want to say down to 70 words (or to a 30-second pitch) using the following guidelines:
- WHAT: What exactly do you want to tell your audience?
- SO WHAT: Why should they care?
- WHAT NEXT: What action do you want the audience to take afterwards?
If you cannot edit your message down to 70 words then your message is not simple enough.
Tip 2: Simplify Your Visuals
Research shows that the information we receive orally has to compete for our attention with the information we receive in written form. In other words, people can’t read and listen at the same time. So it’s counterproductive to echo what you are saying in your slides.
With this in mind, keep your slides simple. One idea per slide is sufficient. There is no point creating slides which replicate what you are saying (especially if they are cluttered with bullet points).
Billboard adverts rarely contain many words. The best are usually just a big image and a few words.
Take the same ideas and adapt them for your slides. Instead of using lots of words, try these suggestions:
- Show an image or an icon that illustrates your point
- Combine an image with a few words
- Show just a few words or a big number
Another way to think about it is to apply the three-second rule. Every time you show a slide, it should be so intuitive that your audience is able to understand the message in no more than three seconds.
Think of your slides as visual aids to support, reinforce and amplify your message. You are the presentation, not your slides.
Tip 3: Simplify Your Delivery
The next area to consider is the language you use. There are two golden rules:
- Use simple words
- Avoid verbal fillers
Use simple words
Great communicators use simple words, simple sentences and simple language. Some professionals use complex language because they think it makes them sound smarter. They fall into the trap of using jargon and acronyms. They use long, confusing sentences.
The best presenters replace complex language with simple words. This doesn’t mean the ideas have to be simplistic. No one is suggesting you dumb down the ideas or the content. Just make the language simple.
Carmine Gallo, one of the world’s top experts in communication, did an interesting exercise. He took Steve Jobs’ presentation when he launched the first iPhone in 2007 and passed the words through the Hemingway App (which analyses language). The first 1,000 words came back as language appropriate for third-grade students — who are aged 8 and 9.
That iPhone launch was considered a historic moment for Apple and is still remembered to this day. The technology he was launching was revolutionary but the language was simple.
Avoid verbal fillers
Verbal fillers, or filler words, are those phrases people throw in to buy themselves time. These are words and sounds like ‘you know’, ‘like’, ‘actually’, ‘um’, ‘ah’ and ‘er’.
These ‘unwords’ add zero meaning to your message and reduce your credibility. They make you look unprepared, uncomfortable and less credible.
There are two effective ways to eliminate verbal fillers from your vocabulary:
- Awareness. Work out whether you use verbal fillers and, if so, which ones. Try recording yourself and then count how many times you use filler words. Alternatively, work with a presentation coach who will pick up on this for you.
- Preparation. Once you are aware of your own verbal fillers, rehearse, rehearse, rehearse! The more you practise, the easier it will be.
Putting Simplicity into Practice
I previously worked with Jessie and Sebastian Wölke from NO PLANET B, an upcycling beauty brand that makes natural, vegan and microplastic-free cosmetics, with no animal testing.
They knew they were confident speakers but their presentations were too long and lacked focus. By their own admission, they used to spend hours tweaking slides on PowerPoint.
After learning the tools and techniques to simplify their message and style, they revised their working methods. After introducing the new tactics, they said that things flowed better from the outset, it was easier to remember what they wanted to say and their ideas carried more weight.
Jessie and Sebastian later told me they had used the tools for two big presentations soon after we met. They were able to create more impactful messaging and visuals and improved their delivery which helped them to win new business.
The simpler you can make your presentation, the stronger and more impactful it will be.
There are three key areas to work on:
- Simplify your message. Start by summing up the key idea in 70 words or less.
- Simplify your visuals. Every slide should be digestible in three seconds. Don’t use lots of words. All you need is a key image and a few words.
- Simply your delivery. Use simple words and avoid verbal fillers.
Please comment, get in touch or share the article with any colleagues or friends who might benefit from the ideas. If this article has helped you, please let me know and give me some feedback.
If you want to become a more confident presenter, take the Confident Presenter Scorecard. Answer simple Yes/No questions, get an instant score plus suggestions for improvement. It takes less than 3 minutes. Once you complete the scorecard, you’ll receive a free pdf copy of my best-selling book Confident Presenter.