Secrets of Public Speaking No. 9 :: Putting It All Together

Monday, August 08, 2016

Today I wanted to share how I actually put my presentations together, from a practical point of view. This method may not work for everyone, but works well for me and continues to evolve with each presentation I give.

I use Keynote instead of Powerpoint for all of my presentations and save it in Dropbox. In my opinion, Keynote is easier to use on stage as well as from a design standpoint when I'm putting the slides together.

Once I have a topic, I create an Evernote file and use it to brainstorm. Everything goes in here: random ideas, quotes I may want to use, research notes, and so on. I also have the Evernote app on my phone, and I make notes whenever they come to me so that I don't lose them.

Once I've semi-narrowed down what I want to say, I use the sticky note feature in Keynote to make notes of the different points I want to make. Each point gets its own sticky note on its own blank slide. Once I have all the points I want to make, I can drag and drop the slides in order of flow and delete the ones that need to be edited out. The sticky notes don't show up when the slideshow is projected, so I can keep the notes and slides all in one place and in context.

With this loose outline, I'll then find a photo to illustrate each point. Sometimes I'll add a caption below it, most of the time I don't. I use the photo to give the visual thinkers in the audience something to look at and as a memory prompt for what I am speaking on at that point in my presentation. For example, if the point I'm trying to make for a certain slide is about how millennials relate to their parents, I might have an image of a bride and her mother embracing during the getting ready process. To the audience, it is a nice photo that reinforces my point. For me, it is full of visual cues: the embrace reminds me to touch on how the majority of millennials view mom as their "number one hero" and best friend. It also triggers my memory of the specific stats on how often millennials will include their parents in major decisions, how often they call them during the week, how often they had dinner together as a family growing up, etc.

I have an encyclopedic memory, which I attribute to studying music growing up. Quick memorization of what's on a page and being able to reproduce and improvise on it later is a critical skill for musicians. Having this skillset means I am able to retain a lot of information and quickly recall it when presenting. I am not a fan of slides cluttered with bullet points (the cardinal sin of slide design), so I use my slide photos as strategic memory prompts.

I also ask the event organizer for a list of attendees ahead of time and I look up every single website and blog of every single attendee. Going into a presentation, I am familiar with the work of almost every person in the room and how they portray themselves online.

I also try to use photos and screenshot examples from people in the room because it helps them connect with the presentation on a more personal level. When using examples, I try to focus on the positive and best practices. If I do talk about things to avoid, I'll never use an example from someone in attendance. If you cast someone in a negative light, human nature is to get defensive and instead of listening, everyone is now sitting in fear, wondering if they'll be called out next. While I believe constructive criticism is useful, I'll only give it in larger presentations when it is specifically solicited or cleared with the person ahead of time.

Originally published January 2015

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