Four Steps to Making Memorable Presentations

How to leave a lasting impression

If you’ve read the book Presentation Zen, you know that many speakers–without intending to–hide their message. In watching CPE presentations and board presentations, I have noticed that (we) CPAs unwittingly hide our messages. How? We present slide decks that look like intermediate accounting textbooks–chock full of facts, but too much to digest. And do we really believe that those attending will take those slides back to the office and study them?

Probably not.

My experience has been those slides end up in the office dungeon, never to be seen again. We have one chance to communicate–in the session.


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It is the presenter’s duty to cause learningSo how can we  engage our audience (even those sitting on the back row reading the newspaper)? Let’s start with the slide deck.

1. Make Simple Slides

I try to have no more than two points per slide, and I leave out references to professional standards (at least on the slides).

What happens when you see a slide that looks like it contains the whole of War and Peace? You may think, “Are you kidding? You want me to consume all of that in the next three minutes. Forget it. I will not even try.” And then you begin to think about your golf game or your next vacation. So how much information should you include on a slide?

Nancy Duarte recommends the glance test for each slide. “People should be able to comprehend it in three seconds.”

2. Include a picture related to the topic

For example, if I am presenting to governmental auditors, I might create a slide that simply says Bribes with a picture of someone being bribed.

3. Tell a story (and ask questions)

People love stories. If your presentation is about bribes and you have not audited a bribery situation, Google bribes, and you will find all the fodder you need. If you can’t find a story, use a hypothetical. Why? You are trying to draw your audience in–then maybe they will put that newspaper down (your most triumphant moment as a speaker!).

Also engage your audience with questions. Stories get the juices going; questions make them dig. And, if the audience is with you at this point, you now have dialog. This is when it gets fun. Those talking learn, the audience learns, and, yes, you learn.

4. My last point: Move

Move. Not too much, but at least some.

A statue is not the desired effect. Michael Jackson is also not the desired effect (moonwalking was never in my repertoire anyway). But movement, yes. I like to walk slowly from side to side (without moonwalking) and will, at times, move toward the audience when I want to make an important point. And, no, I am not moving constantly.

Presentation Software and Handouts

Presentation Software

If you have an Apple computer, let me recommend Keynote as your presentation software. I do think PowerPoint (for you Windows users) has improved in the last two years, but I personally still prefer Keynote.

One More Point

If you need to provide detailed information, use handouts (I sometimes provide narrative summaries in addition to the slide deck). Then, if you like, refer your audience to the supporting material.

Your Presentation Tips

What do you do to make your presentations sizzle?

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