What You Say AND How You Say It Matter When Presenting

How often have you heard the clichés “don’t judge a book by its cover” or “what matters most is on the inside”?  Both of these sayings are very applicable when you are talking about people, but I got to thinking whether they applied in other areas as well.  Specifically, I was thinking about the workplace and presentations. 

Far too often we focus almost entirely on what is being said, and significantly less on how it is being said.  That’s a mistake.

I see lots of draft presentations from people – and yes, they are almost 100% in PowerPoint. I think very clearly in PowerPoint, and thankfully I have many years of practice in crafting high-level executive decks about topics I was trying to discuss.  I typically start with an outline, and then build on it with a flow of slides in PowerPoint, and then I build the visuals that help me to tell my story.

Some people stop right there, and often the drafts of decks I see are stuck at that stage. People like to think that if they told the story, it’s done.  I do not agree.  Once you have the story laid out, you need to do two more things.  First, ask yourself where you can cut and reduce pages.  Can you combine points onto a single page?  Can you remove something that at first seemed necessary, but upon further review doesn’t help drive the decision you are looking for? 



Once you’ve gotten the story cleaned up, you also need to make it look good. How you simplify a complex story into an image is key to your story landing softly.  Even the simply act of copy editing to look for grammar and spelling issues is important, and way too often people don’t take that simple step. 

Mistakes to avoid: If your presentation is sloppy, filled with spelling errors or crazy fonts.  If your story has convoluted visualizations, bad illustrations, or too much copy crammed into a page.  If you have a product name incorrect or things are not lined up properly, the takeaway can be that you have not done a great job paying attention to the details. 

A page in a presentation should be crisp, tell a piece of a specific story, and build to the next page.  The visuals should be lined up, clear, and help support the story you are looking to tell. 

A beautiful presentation with a poor story is bad.  A sloppy presentation with a great story is OK, but nowhere nearly as effective as a beautiful presentation with a great story.  That is how you essentially ace any presentation and convince the audience you know what you are talking about.  That is how you get the credibility and support from your audience.  That is how you accomplish your goals. 

Whether you are presenting to raise money, share an idea or simply document a performance, make sure to sweat the details not only in what you say, but how you say it.  I think you will see the extra focus pay off for you as well.

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