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A compelling anecdote on why today’s business leaders need to rethink their presentation-development process

Have you ever wondered why some corporate leaders can seemingly cast a spell on their audiences through speech alone, while others in the C-Suite struggle to get their main points across – even after spending countless hours on research and slide development? All too often, it’s because there was way too much time spent on developing the slides, versus developing the story.

I’m sure many of you can relate! How many times have you wasted more time fighting with one graphic in your PowerPoint® deck than actually rehearsing your delivery? With more than a quarter century of experience helping executives deliver effective presentations, I have seen this all too often. In fact, recognizing that your slides actually aren’t as important as your story and delivery can make all the difference between a captivating, informative presentation and yawns in the audience.

A Breakthrough Moment in Presentation Training

Recently, I was helping an executive client at a technology company to enhance his messaging and delivery prior to an important presentation to his company’s strategic partners. Despite the countless hours spent by my client and his team crafting beautiful PowerPoint® slides prior to our session, he was having trouble. The presentation flow didn’t quite work, he struggled to articulate the right message for each slide, and, as a result, his delivery was very clunky.

After experiencing his struggles in real time, I suggested that he put the slides aside for a few minutes and simply tell me, in his own words, what he wanted the audience to know. As a smile emerged on his face, I could tell this was a true Eureka moment for him. He subsequently stood up straight with his shoulders back and explained THE STORY to me in a dynamic and compelling way that had me on the edge of my seat.

Once he finished, I turned to him and said,”the next time you deliver your presentation to me…just say that!”

After this breakthrough moment, we returned to his slide deck and found that there was just one slide that supported his narrative. No wonder he was having a difficult time figuring out what to say on the other slides! We divided the key messaging from that one important slide into several new slides, adding additional content to support each new slide where appropriate. And voila! He now had a succinct slide deck that enhanced and reinforced his key messaging.

Narrative First, Slides Second

I have had a pet peeve concerning the overreliance on PowerPoint® slides to tell a story for a long time. The extreme focus on slide development in today’s PPT-obsessed business culture versus storytelling and delivery is the root cause of so many poor presentations. This recent coaching session once again drove home this point to me, and I cannot emphasize it enough.

When developing a presentation, your narrative always should come first. Slides only are meant to support your narrative as a visual aid with key facts and figures.

And while we can have a lively discussion over many different “chicken or egg” type issues (Brady or Belichick? for example), there is no debating that your narrative needs to be developed before any effective slides can take shape.

Slides are not the same thing as “the presentation.”

Before you start work on your next important presentation, be sure to fully develop your story. Why? Your story is the essence of your presentation, and its quality will ultimately drive your presentation’s success or failure. In Effective Storytelling in a PowerPoint®-Obsessed World – Chapter Two, we offer a seven-point checklist to help you do just that.

Of course, we also are here to help you develop a compelling story and to coach you on an effective delivery. And yes, we do assist with slide development too! Let’s get in touch through the form below.

David Calusdian

David is an accomplished communicator with more than 30 years of experience in advising and coaching CEOs, CFOs, IROs, and boards of directors through a range of critical communications events, including IPOs, quarterly earnings results, executive transitions, and M&A. David is an acknowledged authority on executive presentation coaching, investor relations strategy, investor day execution, and strategic messaging.