Here’s a reasonable-sounding process to go through when prepping for a big presentation:

  1. Figure out what you want to say
  2. Write this up in slides, with some combination of words, charts, and images
  3. Refine those slides
  4. Rehearse the presentation
  5. Present

Unfortunately this doesn’t work.

What happens is that slides that were going to become better, the slides that had too many words that you were going to fix….they make their way into your “draft” presentation.  Then you fall into the trap of presenting your slides instead of presenting your story – the slides start to win.  Unless you have the gumption to throw out half or all of these slides at this point, your goose is cooked.

Another approach is 1-4-5-2-3.  That is, figure out what you’re going to say, work on that (no slides), and then rehearse it with your colleagues.  You can even stand up like everyone else does in rehearsals, and have a single slide projected, with the title of your presentation and nothing else.  Use the rehearsal to refine the story, and then create slides that support your story.

The reason the first approach seems like it will work  is because we think writing slides is a shorthand version of writing a Word doc, but it’s not.  We also get so distracted by slide creation that we underplay the value of standing in front of people and telling them, very simply, the story we want to tell.

Slides are nothing more and nothing less than a visual aid to support your story.  If you go about creating them the normal way, you’ll end up with a story to support your slides, instead of the other way around.

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5 thoughts on “1-4-5-2-3

  1. Sasha, I used to work with a woman who made me give presentations where I would have to read each word verbatim from the presentations. Talk about stilted. I am much better on my feet and people respond far better.

  2. Hi Sasha
    Just wanted to say that I tried to use this approach in my last presentation and it made a huge difference. Thank you! I used less slides than normal and by not using PowerPoint to initially collect and organize my thoughts I think my presentation was less predictable and hopefully more engaging 🙂
    Another approach to experiment with is the Pecha Kucha model – 20 images for 20 seconds each image. I used this with an undergraduate class I was teaching on social innovation and had all the students present their projects within these constraints. The advantages are that no presentation lasts more than 6 minutes 40 seconds and they have to think about presenting their case visually – lots of text on a slide just doesn’t work (something everyone seems to know but often ignores). The downside is that it requires a lot of practice to make work – if you are not prepared it really shows! Thanks again!

  3. I like this approach; though the specifics can be personalized (with enough experience making message-driven presentations) then one can start take some short-cuts. The key point for me is really the statement you made that “Slides are nothing more and nothing less than a visual aid to support your story”. However, for someone who does not master and/or has not bought into story-driven presentations (which is probably the majority of people out there), this would be a nice forcing device to “get it right”. It is incredible how much more efficient one can be when operating at message-level before going to slide-level.

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