How to Design Shorter Presentations



Long presentations run a higher risk of being boring and ineffective than short, to-the-point presentations. Most people know this, yet most people make them anyway.


Seth Godin has written about this issue.


So if everybody knows that shorter is right and shorter is better, are we somehow programmed to create presentations that go in exactly the opposite direction? Why is this?


If a TED presentation – a whole lifetime of findings and experiences – can impact the world in 18 minutes, why can´t we do it too for smaller themes?


With brief is better in mind, here are some hints on creating shorter – and more engaging – presentations:


1 – Start with your own voice.

Don’t start with PowerPoint or slides. Start with your speech. What are you planning to say?


By focusing first on the speech, you’ll avoid falling into one of the simplest but most dangerous traps in presentation design: the Copy/Paste slides from previous presentations method of development. For sure, this is a recipe for a long and boring  presentation.


2 – Be relevant at all times.

Pre-define your objective – what you want your audience to do, think or feel at the end of the presentation. Keep in mind that you should be telling only one story – an umbrella theme – and then, using the magic of “threes” if possible, defining the three main pillars supporting your story.


Then stick to these massages like glue.


If any chapter, slide or bullet doesn’t DIRECTLY support your main messages, kill it.  Don’t be afraid – be an exterminator.


At the same time, inserting a point that generates conflict (a dissenting view, a negative perspective) can make a presentation come alive, make it dynamic. You state the negative, and then use your messages to obliterate it.


Now, if you find It too hard to delete something, think of your project as fiction: you can always bring back the dead. But try it first the short way. Rarely do audiences complain about a presentation being too short.


3 – Don’t allow the supporting cast to upstage the stars.

Break down your speech (not your slides) into two categories: core story and supporting information.


Put aside the supporting information at first – data, charts, numbers, facts, technical  explanations and the like – and ask whether what you have left – the core of the story – still makes sense.


If it does, then you have something good to start with, especially if the core alone will make an audience curious or skeptical about your conclusions. Generating this kind of audience response, if you don’t drag the thing on too long, will increase audience attention.


Once an audience has arrived at an emotional response, introduce ONLY the evidence (supporting information) that will satisfy the audience.


Note: By doing this, you’re treating the supporting information as it should be treated: the supporting information is not the story, it just backs up the story.


4 – Send the right Information to the right places.

Move data-heavy, extraneous supporting material into an appendix, a hand-out, or a separate pitchbook.


Don’t incorporate heavy data (or too much data) into the main story. And use it only when and if needed.


5 – Let your audience determine relevance.

Remember, a presentation is usually not a meeting but just a part of it.


So you don’t need to say EVERYTHING during a presentation. If you leave enough time for  follow-up conversation or Q&A, at that point you can introduce additional information, and, best of all: you’ll have to supply only the information demanded by the audience.


Regard this as customizing your speech for that specific audience – a very powerful technique.


Two payoffs for the price of one:


Creating a short presentation usually manages to curb presenter anxiety. The anxiety that comes from thinking you have to explore all issues exhaustively and pre-answer every possible question.


And, yes, each context will be a little different from the next and so require a different technique. But this is no reason to create boring presentations.  In the end, a boring presentation may take you in exactly the opposite direction from where you want and need to go.