Want to learn what hundreds if not thousands of presentations have taught us? This knowledge you can apply to your presentations today, for all sorts of uses in B2B sales, events, internal communications, executive communications, and others.
Not Just Graphics
In the course of our work with some of B2B tech’s most valuable clients (Salesforce, Cisco, ServiceNow, DocuSign, Experian, Palo Alto Networks, and more), we’ve learned that there is more to preparing excellent presentations than the beautification of slides and the strictly graphic aspects of the design. Not that this work isn’t essential, but by itself, you may not wind up with much more than something that looks nice while still being confusing, boring, or even misleading.
There is the aspect of the anticipation of the presentation … are the audiences excited about what they are going to see? Are they anticipating something? Maybe they’re looking forward to a pitch or a proposal or learning something. How engaged is the audience going into it? Do you know these people, or are they strangers? This is all good stuff to be aware of and provides insight into how you might want to address them.
In these pages, we consider what goes into the making of any presentation for B2B audiences, under any of those conditions, and for basically any use.
One way to go about this is to consider the main aspects of presentations:
The Visual Aspect
What you see on the screen—or frankly the appearance of the speaker
What you say, the script, (the talk track - and I really dislike that description)
Which weaves together the visual and spoken, along with whatever it is you have to say, the purpose of the meeting itself, and maybe the purpose of the engagement with whoever you are meeting with, into a lovely, compelling, and intriguing narrative.
The “magic,” that makes presentations really memorable, even captivating, is when those three elements, the script, the visuals, and the story, all converge to play their roles in communicating that narrative. For that purpose. Just like when a great jazz band hits their groove, all coming together during a composition, with verses, a chorus, a bridge, a crescendo, a climax, and a conclusion. In there is where the magic happens. This invokes a reaction… some goose bumps or raised eyebrows, smiles, or people leaning in… whatever you’re going for.
By this account, it may come as no surprise, and just like that great jazz band, there is a team involved. Now, that team may be three “aspects” of some brilliant savant who can design, write, speak, etc. Or it may be different individuals, a designer, a creative director, a writer, a speaker, an analyst, etc. It is here where a lot of people miss the opportunity. Just as the jazz band, though they may work on their respective parts individually, the drum, the trumpet, the bass, and the piano, they will crucially rehearse together and further refine and further create their joint masterpiece before a performance.
Over the years at BayCreative, in our work on strategic B2B presentations, we’ve learned that what is required is a holistic view of how these three aforementioned aspects of a presentation need to happen simultaneously, together, at least for a portion of the work. Without that, that magic we mentioned earlier is gonna get missed, or at best happen accidentally but only partially. That’s too bad, a crying shame, an avoidable void or voids that just make this less than what it could be! Because those magic moments can be subtle and elusive and they are so important!
Because that’s what elevates the audience. You might have the smartest idea or the most impressive numbers, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera… but getting those five to “play” together is what draws people in, in a kind of irresistible way.
Okay, let’s go through those five key aspects.
We’ll go in what is usually, unfortunately, the reverse order of what most people experience in creating slides, starting with visual. Slides can be thought of as having their own “personality,” so to speak, that accompanies the presenter throughout the presentation.
Thinking of it this way, one characteristic of “who” the slides are is the brand of your company or organization. You may already have a template with the right colors, fonts, margins, title placement, and much more. There is certainly a lot that goes into using a brand visual identity but it suffices to say (without getting too granular), stay out of the way of your brand. Brand visual identities are usually pretty elemental and staying on brand is usually a matter of just not cluttering things up with extra colors, fonts, or what have you. Part of keeping on brand then is finding ways to use those basic elements of brand identity to express what you need to say or show.
Another simple way to improve design is to organize the slide and reduce graphical dissonance, is by observing the hierarchy of associations on the page. It’s simple and kind of fun to do. By changing the proximity of elements on the screen to reflect their association with each other you can immediately bring order to a slide.
People ordinarily think to emphasize something is to make something bigger, bolder, and brighter. There are other ways to emphasize things in a design. One way is to give something more space around it, and set it apart. You can also make something different. Another way is to “violate” the style by doing something that looks a little wild, but remember you can’t violate a rule that hasn’t already been established. The better established the rules of the design are the less effort is needed to do something exciting because it’s all relative.
Hierarchy of associations - positioning of elements to reflect the relationship of those elements
Less is more - why white space makes discrete things easier to see, even though those elements wind up being smaller, the same goes for margins and alignments, line things up where you can to minimize “noise”
Images that capture the spirit or feeling associated with the content
An illustrated view of what is being talked about (either an abstract view of elements or something literal that would be difficult to explain otherwise)
A short statement, a key phrase, or even a single word, to emphasize the overarching idea of what’s being elaborated on in the talk track.
Next up, what gets said.
For the most part people “present” and the slides “compliment.” Unless your presentation is canned or prerecorded, in which case it is actually more like a video or some other performance.
Find the Simple Way
The same guidance applies here as does for visual regarding minimizing clutter and getting to the essence of the presentation. As an exercise, find the shortest way to say something and work back up from there. Take it to caveman style and then add. Famously Lincoln (might have) said, if I’d had more time I would have written a shorter speech. Whether he said it or not, the sentiment is spot on. People usually, easily ramble on and on, and sometimes that’s delightful especially if they’re funny or attractive or interesting. But, unless you’re auditioning for a role in a play or something, your presentation isn’t about you! Find the simple way.
Jargon is a major culprit in messing up a good script. Jargon is only confusing and proves nothing of your knowledge or expertise. But what is it? It’s any special or unique phrases and words that, though they may be very familiar and comfortable for you to use, are unfamiliar to your audience. That’s precisely what jargon is, hard to identify. Within your own organization, everyday phrases and terms might alienate your audience. The art here is to identify it first, and then find ways to say things that are clear and succinct. How would you talk to a child of 8 or 10, an intelligent child? You might phrase things differently. Here again, a pitfall, avoid dumbing down. Things can be explained simply and clearly in a way that is appreciated by the most informed listener.
By all means, avoid the Karaoke syndrome, or for some older folks in the audience the “Sing along with Mitch syndrome”, of putting what you are only going to read on the slide.
Rephrasing an awkward sentence
Jargon and jargon-like words and phrases (and their substitutes)
Conversational tone - what it sounds like
We love stories. Some people would say that everything in life is a story of one sort or another. All our deepest understandings and beliefs are rooted in stories. Stories are probably the closest we can come to articulating what is tangible in the world through abstraction. The mother of all creative expression and presentations are no exception. The story, your story, can be crafted right from the purpose of the meeting itself. Why are you meeting and presenting? That’s part of your story. What does everyone want to get out of this meeting or subsequent engagement? What will the experience of that engagement feel like and what does success look like? What are the proof points that this can work?
Collaborative Story Creation
By now you may see, or if not I’ll tell you, how collaborative creative work between visual design, writing, data, and content, can come together to support the story. Leaving one or the other out of the process, well, it shows. When a visual design has no comment on the story flow, and writing has no comment on visual, and neither have any collaboration with data and content, it’s like a jazz band all practicing individually and only coming together for the performance (with nothing more than a quick warm-up before). It’s gonna show.
Discover How Good
Don’t prepare your presentations like packing a suitcase, just get everything you need in there and, as long as it all fits, you’ll be ready for where you want to go. Discover, and this can only happen in the moment, what can be of your story. An engaged designer and the writer will bring a perspective that you can’t see. Working together collaboratively with presenters, sales teams, and content people, you’ll find angles and points of emphasis and alternate flows to the story. This will make your story truly interesting while improving clarity and facilitating engagement with the audience.
The Mission of a Presentation
“To bring the audience, you, and your team into harmony and alignment with the purpose of the engagement, regardless of what that is. And do so in a way that acknowledges intelligence and inspires participation and creativity.”
That takes empathy. Understanding what your customer wants to hear and what they need to hear to understand, can’t be overemphasized.
Finally, memorize and rehearse with and without the slides in front of you. A great technique is to memorize both what you want to say and what slides are being shown and their order. It will give you a command over the content that supersedes the slides. Could you make the presentation without the slides? What if the tech failed, could you go through everything just verbally? It’s good to know you can do that if even just partially for a few slides, as the case may be.
Now going through each element, visual, spoken, and story, of presentations in detail you may have better context or a new perspective of how the convergence of them can really bring your presentations to life, and create the magic. But, what are some tangible and actionable measures we can take to accomplish this convergence?
Connect with the Story and Get Personal
When crafting your story for this presentation focus on a story that will have a great impact. The more personal and recognizable the story is, the more it will land on your audience and encourage them to continue on this journey. When delivering that story, stay in the moment. Speak from a personal and profound tone.
Go with the Flow
Going with the flow and having the ability to incorporate serendipitous moments with your audience, maybe a laugh, or nod of affirmation, while staying on point and arriving at the end will make your audience feel engaged and full of delight.
Surprise & Delight
Bring the unexpected. Carefully, without offending anyone, offer your expertise beyond what they are expecting to receive. That may look like an extra data set or a preview of the project or partnership. Another way to simply do this is by managing their expectation well and then overdeliver. The best partner is someone who knows what your needs are before you have to ask, and anticipate their needs by answering questions they have not asked yet. Lastly, don’t make it all about work, you have a great opportunity here, you are in the room. Connect with your audience on a personal level and reveal that you can be a trusted partner.
The Big Reveal
Remembering now that your story has a beginning, middle, and end. Think, how can I reveal this information to align with our storyline and goals? Motion graphics play a big part in this. Maybe you don’t want to reveal an entire graph of information all at once, for greater understanding, focus, and impact, you can reveal the information piece by piece using motion graphics. Here are some examples from BayCreative.
Yes, you can certainly work out your slides, the flow, and the points you want to make and then hand that off to a designer, asking them to “make it pretty.” That request is usually coupled with a somewhat disingenuous and self-deprecated request along the lines of “I just can’t make this look good. You do that so well.” with the sub-text being, but I know exactly what I want to say and the story I want to tell, so don’t fiddle around with that. The retort ordinarily left unsaid but clear in the mind of the designer is “I need to understand what you are trying to achieve here and accomplish that with design”. In all fairness, in many cases, the design team isn’t looking beyond the rote, assembly-line approach to the work.
The best approach from the beginning would be not to look at presentations like an assembly line. Incorporate the designers during the beginning stages to have synergy with your communication and visuals.
BayCreative is Here to Help
At BayCreative we help cutting-edge B2B brands connect meaningfully with their customers and inspire action. Our work centers around branding, sales enablement, video and motion, and finally presentations. We’ve done it countless times for leading B2B tech clients like Salesforce, Cisco, ServiceNow, DocuSign, Palo Alto Networks, Chime, Experian, Google Cloud, and more!
We love challenging our customers and ourselves to find the best solutions. We call our work cultivation because we believe the core of your brand is already there in your ideas and what you do. It just needs to be cultivated and put in front of people where the value of what you offer can be shown.
There are many layers, intricacies, and even more technical finesse to strategic B2B presentations. Heck, we’ve built a whole service line around it. If you're looking to learn about the next level I will leave my meeting link below, I would be happy to talk about it 1:1