The Three Pillars of a Presentation: STORY – VISUALS – PRESENTER



“We don’t know what we don’t know.” This is a powerful – and scary – statement.


Many times, that kind of ignorance is okay. After all, we don’t need to know everything. Nor can we possibly do that.


Not knowing becomes a problem, though, when we want to improve something and we don’t have a reference for what else is out there that’s similar, or what is the best possible thing that can be accomplished. With business presentations, this most desirable outcome is to “wow” the audience and so achieve the sale of whatever the project is promoting.


If that’s the case, then, what is possible when developing a business presentation? What are the best practices, and what is the highest standard one can aspire to, to create the very best presentation?


The Basics

When developing a presentation, we need to know and work on three main pillars of a presentation: STORY – VISUALS – PRESENTER.


With this in mind, a great presentation has:


  1. A powerful STORY, with interesting and didactic flow to take the audience on a trip from where they are (point A) to where you want them to end up (point B);
  2. Engaging VISUALS. This doesn’t mean sophisticated visuals. It does mean visuals that connect with the audience and enhance your message. Every visual must to be in service of the presenter and the message. (In fact, a great presentation may have no visuals whatsoever.)
  3. An eye-catching PRESENTER performance. The presenter has to “own” the story and the visuals and deliver the speech in a very natural and engaging way. A great performance requires a lot of practice.


If you master what’s required on these three fronts, you will have a State-of-the Art presentation.


Gauging Progress

If you create and use presentations, you always need to be evaluating at which stage of  development you are. This means that there’s a steep learning curve between Boring and State-of-the-Art that you need to master. You need to be achieving continual improvement, through every stage of development, until you reach the peak: a mature presentation.


The Analysis

This stage-by-stage evaluation can be done by analyzing each pillar:


1- Does my Story flow really well?

2- How can I use Visuals? Which visuals should I use to enhance tension/attention/understanding of my story?

3- How do I tell the story in the most engaging way possible?


Then again, even if you climb that curve and achieve a business presentation that just can’t be improved on, how do you know it?  What is the benchmark of greatness?


This video aims to illustrate each stage of the development of a presentation, from first halting steps to accomplished maturity, and to help explain the concept of “what you don’t know.” The video is an excerpt from one of the best TED Talks, by Benjamin Zander:


Using Zander’s performance as an example:


I love music, I love listening to music, but I don’t understand much about classical music technique. When I first watched this video, the second stage was good enough for me. But, when I arrived at stage 4, I learned what I hadn’t known only a moment before. And what I hadn’t know was SO MUCH better than what had been only “good enough”!  In a way, I learned what greatness is.  It’s not about the technique that makes the music, it is about the perception of the music.  This little performance engaged me in a way that I hadn’t been engaged before, and I was surprised and delighted. What a WOW moment!


So if, like me, you think that stage 2 is good enough, and why bother trying to get to a higher level when it requires so much more investment – of time, energy, effort and, sometimes, money – just remember: you too may have a WOW moment coming if you don’t stop at stage 2, or even 3.


So you need to go for more, right? And you can do that by:


1-      Building a powerful Story,

2-      Creating engaging Visuals and

3-      Practicing as long as it takes to give an outstanding performance.


This is the only way you’ll WOW your audience and deliver a truly remarkable presentation.




“Good enough isn’t good enough, because now everything is good enough. Our expectations of quality are unrealistic – and are being met every single day. We don’t just want to be satisfied, we want to be blown away.


Remarkable isn’t up to you. Remarkable is in the eye of the customer. If your customer decides something you do is worth remarking on, then, by definition, it’s remarkable.”


Seth Godin, The Big Moo