• Are Business Leaders Asking the Right Questions?

  • Posted on April 2, 2011

  • This Forbes.com blog post by Steve Denning argues that in some companies, business presentations are merely a ritual meant to impress the next level up, rather than a productive use of time to make products better for customers.

    It is probably true there are companies like this. But while these business meetings may seem like a waste of time, they are in fact a visible symptom of a bigger problem. Business leaders are not asking the right questions.

    Let me explain.

    1. Every business presentation should answer the audience’s question. If you’re using business meetings to regurgitate existing knowledge, that’s a waste of time. But if the question is: how do we delight customers more? Then that’s a good use of time. If they don’t have a question in their mind, and you are calling the meeting, then use the meeting to plant the question in their mind and then answer it.
    2. Different audience, different deck. Time is not “wasted” when you are re-doing your presentation to meet the needs of different audiences. Rather, re-using the same slides for different audiences, although faster, typically leads to less effective communications. Why? Because each audience has a different question. The execs want to know what this will cost and how success will be measured. Marketing wants to know what are the features and benefits of the new product. Operations wants to know what is changing and when.  A great way to “waste” time is to re-use the same deck for every single audience.
    3. Are we asking the right questions? If presentations are not leading to delighted customers, perhaps the problem is that the business leaders are asking the wrong questions. Most employees, especially those who work eye-to-eye with customers like technical support and sales, want to hear presentations that tell them how to delight customers.  If business presentations are not spitting out the answer to that question, then perhaps business leaders are asking the wrong question.

    If there is a problem with business presentations, it may be that business leaders are not asking the right questions. Business meetings are not the cause of that, they are the most visible symptoms.

    About the author: Bruce Gabrielle is author of Speaking PowerPoint: the new language of business, showing a 12-step method for creating clearer and more persuasive PowerPoint slides for boardroom presentations. Subscribe to this blog or join my LinkedIn group to get new posts sent to your inbox.


  • Create Curved Lines in PowerPoint – PowerPoint Video Tip #8

  • Posted on March 29, 2011

  • Straight lines are dull. But curved lines are exciting and energetic! And, they’re super-easy to make in PowerPoint. Watch!

    About the author: Bruce Gabrielle is author of Speaking PowerPoint: the new language of business, showing a 12-step method for creating clearer and more persuasive PowerPoint slides for boardroom presentations. Subscribe to this blog or join my LinkedIn group to get new posts sent to your inbox.


  • How to Be a Presentation God (Scott Schwertly) Book Review

  • Posted on March 28, 2011

  • You have to approach How to Be a Presentation God with the right expectations. Ethos3 is known for its slick slide design, but this book does not divulge many of their design secrets.

    Instead, it’s a hilarious romp through familiar territory: rehearse, don’t waste your audience’s time, keep slide design simple, use storytelling instead of bullet points. But it’s told with such unexpected humor it’s like watching a Seinfeld show. Sure, it’s a show about nothing. But it’s a scream!

    The more interesting parts of this book cover Scott Schwertly’s personal philosophies about developing and delivering a presentation. Some ideas that stood out for me.

    1. Design so a 10-year old could understand. This may seem outrageous at first. But really, what parts of your presentation would a 10-year old not understand? Those are the areas that could be simpler, more entertaining or simply removed.

    2. Your audience is judging you. Your audience are not your humble servants, ready to raise their faces in glowing admiration of your epic vision. Rather, they are typical human beings, critical of your haircut, perturbed by your hand gestures and vexed by how you constantly mispronounce “expecially”. Personal grooming and presentation skills are not trivial.

    3. Managing perceptions. It’s not enough to be a brilliant expert who has the right answer if you are boring and stammer and have coffee stains on your suit. The world is full of mediocre thinkers who are stars because they create a perception the audience likes. Smart is not enough. Don’t underestimate how quickly audiences will forget your brilliant insights if you don’t present yourself with some pizzazz.

    I’m not sure I’m bought into the idea that “the only reason to give a presentation is to change the world”, even if it was first uttered by JKF. This puts a lot of pressure on every trainer, sales person and MBA intern who doesn’t have a vision to sell. And, anyway, who wants to live in a world that changes 30 million times a day?

    Still, if your goal is to change the world, and especially if your personal style leans toward the irreverent, this book will kick you into a new direction.

    But it’s a shame there wasn’t more content on slide design, Ethos3’s claim to fame. We really need a book on how to use PowerPoint (or whatever) to create those cool-looking viral commercials that pop up on YouTube and SlideShare (see below). Perhaps that will be Scott’s next book. Let’s hope so.

    About the author: Bruce Gabrielle is author of Speaking PowerPoint: the new language of business, showing a 12-step method for creating clearer and more persuasive PowerPoint slides for boardroom presentations. Subscribe to this blog or join my LinkedIn group to get new posts sent to your inbox.


  • The Minto Pyramid Principle (Barbara Minto) Book Review

  • Posted on March 26, 2011

  • The Minto Pyramid Principle by Barbara Minto is simply a miracle. If you want to learn to organize your ideas for an executive report, there is no other book that covers the same breadth of topics as clearly and practically as the Pyramid Principle.

    1. Start by answering the reader’s question. You have been asked to present for a specific reason; the audience has a problem they want solved. So begin your presentation by answering that specific question and don’t leave your answer to the end of the presentation, wrapped up like a Christmas present.
    2. Organize your content by answering the reader’s next question: why? Once you’ve provided an answer to the reader’s question, their natural reaction will be “why do you recommend that?”. So proceed through your presentation by organizing your information to answer the reader’s questions.
    3. Develop an inductive argument – not a deductive argument. Each question you answer will be surrounded by evidence to back it up — charts, quotes, observations and so on. A deductive argument is a logical, step by step re-enactment of your analysis. Don’t do that. This leads to very boring presentations. Instead, present an inductive argument, which presents the evidence as a list of circumstantial events that require a leap of logic to reach a conclusion.
    4. If you can, organize your report along a timeline. Once you have all your evidence, don’t just sort it randomly. Instead, try to sort it along a timeline. Is lower employee morale causing higher error rate? Or is higher error rate causing lower employee morale? As you sort evidence along a timeline, you can begin to develop a storyline and also determine what evidence is still missing.

    The ideas are simple in theory but take some practice to master. Once you do, though, you can apply her principles to everything you write: PowerPoint decks, business reports, email and blogs. Chris Witt recently posted a blog article that summarizes some of the same key points.

    Barbara has been teaching this method to consulting firms around the world, including McKinsey, for more than two decades.

    The Pyramid Principle is not cheap. Look for a used copy. But you will wow audiences with your clear and practical presentations and you simply must make room on your shelf for The Pyramid Principle.

    About the author: Bruce Gabrielle is author of Speaking PowerPoint: the new language of business, showing a 12-step method for creating clearer and more persuasive PowerPoint slides for boardroom presentations. Subscribe to this blog or join my LinkedIn group to get new posts sent to your inbox.


  • 5 Storytelling Lessons from Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” Speech

  • Posted on March 22, 2011

  • In Resonate, Nancy Duarte uses the “I Have a Dream” speech to illustrate the use of the Duarte storytelling method, which consists of alternately contrasting what is today and what could be in the future.

    In fact, there are numerous storytelling lessons we can learn from King’s speech that you can use in your next boardroom or ballroom presentation. I use this speech text in my corporate workshops to illustrate five important storytelling principles.

    1. Classic story structure with a beginning, middle and end. King’s speech is arranged along a loose timeline, with a beginning, middle and end. He starts his speech with the past (“five score years ago”), then moves to the present (“but 100 years later, the Negro is still not free”) where he elaborates on the many promises that were broken. Finally, he moves to the future (“I have a dream”), painting a picture of a glorious future. Amazingly, according to Nick Morgan, he may have improvised this section.

    2. Inciting Incident. All great stories begin with something happening – a specific incident – that puts the hero’s world out of balance. In this case, the inciting incident was promises broken. The world is out of balance, not because the black man does not have equal rights, but because he was promised equal rights 100 years ago and those promises are still not fulfilled.

    3. Picture words. Great stories, the kinds that make an audience holds its breath and get caught up in the speaker’s narrative, use picture words. These picture words direct the audience to imagine an inner world and enter a sort of trance — called the storylistening trance — that makes them more likely to accept the speaker’s words. King sprinkles his speech with picture words of ordinary things that are easy to imagine: flames, ocean, island, check, hills, table. Action words are also picture words: sear, languish, sit down together.

    4. Analogies and metaphors. Comparing one thing to another makes audiences transfer the characteristics of one thing (eg. mighty stream) onto the other thing (eg. justice). King was a master of analogies, like calling the broken promises a bad check. Especially, King uses metaphors persistently: the manacles of segregation and chains of discrimination, lonely island of poverty midst a vast ocean of prosperity, quicksand of racial injustice.

    5. No slides. This speech would NOT be stronger by showing pictures of a cancelled check, the red hills of Georgia or – heaven forbid — a list of bullet points outlining his complaints. Why? Because the purpose of this speech is to motivate and move an audience, not inform and instruct them. Slides are best used for information transfer. But if you want to move an audience, then draw pictures on the whiteboard of their own minds with the velvety ink of your words.

    PowerPoint slides are terrific for influencing and persuading in the boardroom, where the audience wants to see your analysis and to engage in a discussion about your assumptions. And you can still use analogies and stories to enhance your presentation.

    But when you want to rattle the chains of your audience’s heart and stir the simmering coals of their courage, then throw off the shackles of the clicker and rain storytelling on them like a mighty storm.

    About the author: Bruce Gabrielle is author of Speaking PowerPoint: the new language of business, showing a 12-step method for creating clearer and more persuasive PowerPoint slides for boardroom presentations. Subscribe to this blog or join my LinkedIn group to get new posts sent to your inbox.

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This Forbes.com blog post by Steve Denning argues that in some companies, business presentations are merely a ritual meant to impress the next level up, rather than a productive use of time to make products better for customers.

It is probably true there are companies like this. But while these business meetings may seem like a waste of time, they are in fact a visible symptom of a bigger problem. Business leaders are not asking the right questions.

Let me explain.

  1. Every business presentation should answer the audience’s question. If you’re using business meetings to regurgitate existing knowledge, that’s a waste of time. But if the question is: how do we delight customers more? Then that’s a good use of time. If they don’t have a question in their mind, and you are calling the meeting, then use the meeting to plant the question in their mind and then answer it.
  2. Different audience, different deck. Time is not “wasted” when you are re-doing your presentation to meet the needs of different audiences. Rather, re-using the same slides for different audiences, although faster, typically leads to less effective communications. Why? Because each audience has a different question. The execs want to know what this will cost and how success will be measured. Marketing wants to know what are the features and benefits of the new product. Operations wants to know what is changing and when.  A great way to “waste” time is to re-use the same deck for every single audience.
  3. Are we asking the right questions? If presentations are not leading to delighted customers, perhaps the problem is that the business leaders are asking the wrong questions. Most employees, especially those who work eye-to-eye with customers like technical support and sales, want to hear presentations that tell them how to delight customers.  If business presentations are not spitting out the answer to that question, then perhaps business leaders are asking the wrong question.

If there is a problem with business presentations, it may be that business leaders are not asking the right questions. Business meetings are not the cause of that, they are the most visible symptoms.

About the author: Bruce Gabrielle is author of Speaking PowerPoint: the new language of business, showing a 12-step method for creating clearer and more persuasive PowerPoint slides for boardroom presentations. Subscribe to this blog or join my LinkedIn group to get new posts sent to your inbox.

You have to approach How to Be a Presentation God with the right expectations. Ethos3 is known for its slick slide design, but this book does not divulge many of their design secrets.

Instead, it’s a hilarious romp through familiar territory: rehearse, don’t waste your audience’s time, keep slide design simple, use storytelling instead of bullet points. But it’s told with such unexpected humor it’s like watching a Seinfeld show. Sure, it’s a show about nothing. But it’s a scream!

The more interesting parts of this book cover Scott Schwertly’s personal philosophies about developing and delivering a presentation. Some ideas that stood out for me.

1. Design so a 10-year old could understand. This may seem outrageous at first. But really, what parts of your presentation would a 10-year old not understand? Those are the areas that could be simpler, more entertaining or simply removed.

2. Your audience is judging you. Your audience are not your humble servants, ready to raise their faces in glowing admiration of your epic vision. Rather, they are typical human beings, critical of your haircut, perturbed by your hand gestures and vexed by how you constantly mispronounce “expecially”. Personal grooming and presentation skills are not trivial.

3. Managing perceptions. It’s not enough to be a brilliant expert who has the right answer if you are boring and stammer and have coffee stains on your suit. The world is full of mediocre thinkers who are stars because they create a perception the audience likes. Smart is not enough. Don’t underestimate how quickly audiences will forget your brilliant insights if you don’t present yourself with some pizzazz.

I’m not sure I’m bought into the idea that “the only reason to give a presentation is to change the world”, even if it was first uttered by JKF. This puts a lot of pressure on every trainer, sales person and MBA intern who doesn’t have a vision to sell. And, anyway, who wants to live in a world that changes 30 million times a day?

Still, if your goal is to change the world, and especially if your personal style leans toward the irreverent, this book will kick you into a new direction.

But it’s a shame there wasn’t more content on slide design, Ethos3’s claim to fame. We really need a book on how to use PowerPoint (or whatever) to create those cool-looking viral commercials that pop up on YouTube and SlideShare (see below). Perhaps that will be Scott’s next book. Let’s hope so.

About the author: Bruce Gabrielle is author of Speaking PowerPoint: the new language of business, showing a 12-step method for creating clearer and more persuasive PowerPoint slides for boardroom presentations. Subscribe to this blog or join my LinkedIn group to get new posts sent to your inbox.

The Minto Pyramid Principle by Barbara Minto is simply a miracle. If you want to learn to organize your ideas for an executive report, there is no other book that covers the same breadth of topics as clearly and practically as the Pyramid Principle.

  1. Start by answering the reader’s question. You have been asked to present for a specific reason; the audience has a problem they want solved. So begin your presentation by answering that specific question and don’t leave your answer to the end of the presentation, wrapped up like a Christmas present.
  2. Organize your content by answering the reader’s next question: why? Once you’ve provided an answer to the reader’s question, their natural reaction will be “why do you recommend that?”. So proceed through your presentation by organizing your information to answer the reader’s questions.
  3. Develop an inductive argument – not a deductive argument. Each question you answer will be surrounded by evidence to back it up — charts, quotes, observations and so on. A deductive argument is a logical, step by step re-enactment of your analysis. Don’t do that. This leads to very boring presentations. Instead, present an inductive argument, which presents the evidence as a list of circumstantial events that require a leap of logic to reach a conclusion.
  4. If you can, organize your report along a timeline. Once you have all your evidence, don’t just sort it randomly. Instead, try to sort it along a timeline. Is lower employee morale causing higher error rate? Or is higher error rate causing lower employee morale? As you sort evidence along a timeline, you can begin to develop a storyline and also determine what evidence is still missing.

The ideas are simple in theory but take some practice to master. Once you do, though, you can apply her principles to everything you write: PowerPoint decks, business reports, email and blogs. Chris Witt recently posted a blog article that summarizes some of the same key points.

Barbara has been teaching this method to consulting firms around the world, including McKinsey, for more than two decades.

The Pyramid Principle is not cheap. Look for a used copy. But you will wow audiences with your clear and practical presentations and you simply must make room on your shelf for The Pyramid Principle.

About the author: Bruce Gabrielle is author of Speaking PowerPoint: the new language of business, showing a 12-step method for creating clearer and more persuasive PowerPoint slides for boardroom presentations. Subscribe to this blog or join my LinkedIn group to get new posts sent to your inbox.

In Resonate, Nancy Duarte uses the “I Have a Dream” speech to illustrate the use of the Duarte storytelling method, which consists of alternately contrasting what is today and what could be in the future.

In fact, there are numerous storytelling lessons we can learn from King’s speech that you can use in your next boardroom or ballroom presentation. I use this speech text in my corporate workshops to illustrate five important storytelling principles.

1. Classic story structure with a beginning, middle and end. King’s speech is arranged along a loose timeline, with a beginning, middle and end. He starts his speech with the past (“five score years ago”), then moves to the present (“but 100 years later, the Negro is still not free”) where he elaborates on the many promises that were broken. Finally, he moves to the future (“I have a dream”), painting a picture of a glorious future. Amazingly, according to Nick Morgan, he may have improvised this section.

2. Inciting Incident. All great stories begin with something happening – a specific incident – that puts the hero’s world out of balance. In this case, the inciting incident was promises broken. The world is out of balance, not because the black man does not have equal rights, but because he was promised equal rights 100 years ago and those promises are still not fulfilled.

3. Picture words. Great stories, the kinds that make an audience holds its breath and get caught up in the speaker’s narrative, use picture words. These picture words direct the audience to imagine an inner world and enter a sort of trance — called the storylistening trance — that makes them more likely to accept the speaker’s words. King sprinkles his speech with picture words of ordinary things that are easy to imagine: flames, ocean, island, check, hills, table. Action words are also picture words: sear, languish, sit down together.

4. Analogies and metaphors. Comparing one thing to another makes audiences transfer the characteristics of one thing (eg. mighty stream) onto the other thing (eg. justice). King was a master of analogies, like calling the broken promises a bad check. Especially, King uses metaphors persistently: the manacles of segregation and chains of discrimination, lonely island of poverty midst a vast ocean of prosperity, quicksand of racial injustice.

5. No slides. This speech would NOT be stronger by showing pictures of a cancelled check, the red hills of Georgia or – heaven forbid — a list of bullet points outlining his complaints. Why? Because the purpose of this speech is to motivate and move an audience, not inform and instruct them. Slides are best used for information transfer. But if you want to move an audience, then draw pictures on the whiteboard of their own minds with the velvety ink of your words.

PowerPoint slides are terrific for influencing and persuading in the boardroom, where the audience wants to see your analysis and to engage in a discussion about your assumptions. And you can still use analogies and stories to enhance your presentation.

But when you want to rattle the chains of your audience’s heart and stir the simmering coals of their courage, then throw off the shackles of the clicker and rain storytelling on them like a mighty storm.

About the author: Bruce Gabrielle is author of Speaking PowerPoint: the new language of business, showing a 12-step method for creating clearer and more persuasive PowerPoint slides for boardroom presentations. Subscribe to this blog or join my LinkedIn group to get new posts sent to your inbox.