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How to Master a Presentation

November 15, 2021

Patrick sits down with AdVenture Media’s Senior Digital Account Strategist, Esther Nadoff to discuss the art of presentations. They talk about the key approaches to telling a story, delivering a message and giving over a presentation most effectively and successfully.

Full episode transcript below:

Patrick Gilbert: Welcome to the How to Hide a Dead Body Podcast. I'm Patrick Gilbert, the COO of AdVenture Media Group. This is a podcast where we talk about digital advertising, business consulting, and career growth. Joining me today is one of AdVenture Media Group's senior strategists, Esther Nadoff. Esther's been working on our team for a number of years, and among some of her many talents, includes the art of presentations. 

Esther is known for not just being extremely well-versed in developing beautiful presentations for our clients, but also in just the overall communication space.  I generally lean on Esther a lot whenever we have a big client pitch coming up, or a conference that we're speaking for. And I really love to get her ideas anytime we're talking about this space. 

So we're going to be talking about presentations today. And specifically, delivering some lessons from a book that I really enjoyed called Presenting to Win by an author named Jerry Weissman, who is a consultant who has helped a lot of Fortune 500 companies, specifically with IPO roadshows and creating pitch presentations. But there's a lot of really good value that comes out of this book that can help anyone get better at telling a story, delivering a message, and overall just giving better presentations. Esther, great to be here. How are you today?

Esther Nadoff: I'm good. Thank you for inviting me. I'm very honored. Yes, we both know I love presentations. So I'm excited to be talking about it with you.

Patrick Gilbert: Incredible. The main thing here is, I think most people are not great at giving presentations. And I think I would fall into that category until I studied this pretty extensively. There's research that shows that the average attention span of an audience is about seven minutes. And Ted Talks are actually structured in that they're generally about 18 to 20 minutes because the people at TED have found that their audiences, their attention span will last around that amount of time. But those TED speakers are very engaging. 

None of us are TED speakers at least yet so we often go into these meetings that are going to last a half-hour, an hour, or even longer and we're surprised when we're not able to get buy-in from whomever our audience is. You're generally giving a presentation because you want your audience to do something. And oftentimes, that fails because of one of the five cardinal sins that Weissman outlines in the book Presenting to Win

Those cardinal sins are, number one, no clear point, no audience benefit, no clear flow, they're too detailed, or they're too long. And we're going to dive into a few of these concepts today. In particular, the first three cardinal sins are ones that I think are really useful and really practical. 

But the biggest takeaway for me is Weissman talks about this concept of a data dump, which kind of ruins many presentations. He defines that as an excessive, meaningless, shapeless outpouring of data without a purpose or plan. And I think all of us are guilty of having data dumps in our presentations. We think it's important because we think that for our audience to understand anything, they need to understand everything. 

So we just go down this wormhole of describing all the different things here. And at that point, or somewhere along the way, we lose the audience. We fall victim to what Weissman refers to as MEGO, which is Mine Eyes Glaze Over. But just talking about this, Esther, what do you think? Is there a way to think differently about this whole data dump concept because I think it's just too many details, too much unimportant information? How do we start to think about this differently so that we know that we don't fall victim to it?

Esther Nadoff: Yeah, I think that leads and segues us straight into the cardinal sin number one, which is having no clear point. The point of a presentation is obviously to convince your audience of something or to get to a point, B. You're taking the audience from point A to point B. So there's this dynamic shift, which is persuasion. So, point A is where your audience starts.

There are three different types of audiences. There's the uninformed; they're knowing little about your topic. Then there's the dubious type of audience; they're skeptical and ready to question your claims. And then there's the resistant type of audience, where they're firmly committed to a position contrary to what you're presenting, or what you're asking them to do. So point B is where you want them to be, or what you want them to do. You need to take those three types of audiences through three different stages.

So, you're taking the uninformed audience, you want them to understand, the dubious audience to actually believe, and the resistant audience to act. So they're not necessarily separate goals, but rather the three stages in reaching a single ultimate goal. I think the whole concept of getting a good presentation out and being successful is really starting with your point B.

I've been a big fan recently, I'm reading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. And one of the topics they talk about is just in life in general of effective people, is really starting with your point B, starting with your end goal in mind. So you really have to take that concept, and apply it to presentations, too. 

There are so many presentations, as you're saying, Patrick, where there's no clear point. But if you start with your point being where you're wanting your audience to be, then you kind of work backwards to figure out the information that you want to include in your presentation. So it's not being guilty of a data dump, essentially. So, let's talk about some examples of these presentations on a practical level, what would that point B be?

Patrick Gilbert: Just to go back to your previous point about the audiences, I think that a lot of audiences fit into all three of those categories. They could be uninformed, dubious, and resistant. And I think that's part of the process that you're going through. You have to start assuming they know nothing or you have to figure out where they are in that process and you work through all those things. 

And as cheesy as it sounds, I've been working on some presentations lately, where I write down my point B at the top. And it's often too long and complicated; too many things. And I think part of that exercise is like, what do you really want the audience to do? What is your point here? 

One of the things that we've talked about is, what is the difference between a presentation to a prospect where the point B is "You should hire an agency"? And I think that presentation would look very different from, "You should hire our agency." The former is pitching to somebody who might be doing their marketing in-house, or they don't have an agency, whatever. I think the point of the presentation is to show the value agencies collectively have. And that should be your entire presentation. You should stop there, drive that point home, get them to point B, and then circle back, hopefully, have another meeting with that prospect. 

Don't try and do it all at once. Don't try and close the deal in that first sitting, because they're clearly very far from that ultimate goal that you want them to do, which is become a customer of yours, or a client of yours. But in that whole thing, it looks very different from "You should hire our agency." Now, when you're having that conversation, you're assuming that this audience has a whole different worldview. They're coming in with a different level of information. They're informed in a certain way. They're dubious about certain things, and they're resistant about certain things, which looks very different from the audience in your previous presentation. 

So when you're saying, "You should hire our agency," you're talking more about what sets you apart from another agency. And these small little details, I think, can really shape the way that you shape a presentation.

Esther Nadoff: One other presentation that I've been working on recently and I am in the middle of presenting it as it was too detailed in a way—there's too much information in there to do it all in one sitting— it's actually an industry research presentation. And technically, I feel like we're very guilty of industry research presentations that are kind of a way of a data dump to show that we did our due diligence in looking through your industry and understanding it so we can market it properly. 

But really, when we took a step back with this industry research presentation it's saying, what does the client want out of this? What do we want out of this? And it was, essentially, to come up with a strategy based on the industry research. That's how we went through the entire presentation and created it. It included only industry research information that was relevant to help in crafting the strategy that we wanted to take place. 

Patrick Gilbert: I love that. And I think going back, there have been so many presentations that we've done over the years. Again, we're using the word presentation a lot here but a lot of the time, this might just mean a call with a client. And not determining what is the difference between your standard update call or presentation; that's an important delineation that we haven't really figured out until recently. But that's an important thing to figure out. And then as far as, some of these presentations are meant to prove that you're doing good work. And that's okay as long as that's your point B.

I think we should all stop trying to dress up and disguise, like, "Look at all this research." And then the client is like, "Cool, now what?" And you're like, "Look over here." And that's, going to the next point from the book, it's the "What's in it for you or the abbreviation is WIIF. That sounds ridiculous because it sounds weird to say with WIIFY, but what's in it for you? And that's really important.

Every single point that you make during a presentation should have a very clear "What's in it for you". If it doesn't fit, and if it ultimately doesn't fit back up to your point B, then it should be removed. And I think that's the best way to say, okay, what fits into this data dump and what doesn't? Because if there's not a clear audience benefit, then you should remove it altogether. 

And that brings us to cardinal sin number two: no audience benefit. So this is the whole MEGO: Mine Eyes Glaze Over type of analogy that Weissman writes about. If you're not making it clear to people what's in it for them, they're going to stop listening. It's just human nature. 

He gives a lot of examples in the book but one that stood out is a SaaS company that Weissman consulted with to help them revise their pitch deck over the years to new clients. And they used to talk about how their technology was a pioneer and helped this radical shift in technology. And to the business owner, to the CEO of this IT company, they thought it was a no-brainer. "We provide telecommunications software that is not just better, but it's also cheaper than what some of our target customers already have in place." It's a no-brainer. And they went into these presentations with that mentality. 

And Weissman came in and was like, "No, this doesn't work because, in the tone of your voice, you're sort of alienating people by making it seem as if they're behind the curve and that they're missing out in this radical shift." So instead, the "what's in it for you" principle outlines that your company, this SaaS company allows you to shepherd these people through. And it really changes the overall marketing positioning of that company. 

Once they implemented that, they changed their pitches, they really had that "What's in it for you" focus, trying to really empathize with who their audience is and what they want to get out of this presentation or this overall relationship, it really allowed them to increase their close rate. So it's really important that every single point has its own "what's in it for you". 

And then some of the tools to help you validate that is by saying a point and then completing the sentence with, "This is important to you, my audience, because..." Or, "What does this mean for you? Why am I telling you this?" Who cares? Or you make a point and then say, "And therefore,..." And if you can't complete that sentence with something really valuable, then get it out because it's not actually moving the needle. It's not allowing your customers to get the point, B:

The other part of the WIIFY, the audience benefit piece is to be very clear about who the "You" is. Weissman consulted with Netflix before they went public. Reed Hastings who's the CEO of Netflix was working with him and one of his pitches included the headline, "Rent All The Movies You Want For $20 a Month". That seems great. It seems like an awesome idea for a business., but we're not pitching the product. We're pitching the business model to potential investors. 

So, instead of "Rent All The Movies You Want For $20 a Month", they changed the headline to "Millions of Movie Lovers Can Easily Rent DVDs For Just $20 a Month". What they did there was they identified that the "You", the audience in this perspective, was different from what the previous headline spoke to. They made a very simple change and Netflix has certainly been successful since the IPO, be that as it may.

I think just keeping the audience at the core of the presentation is probably the most essential way to make sure that you're dragging them through your presentation and getting them to point B as effectively as possible. 

Esther Nadoff: Yeah, absolutely.

Patrick Gilbert: Cardinal sin number three is no clear flow. This happens a lot when you have presentations that seem unprepared or unpolished. They seem to go off on tangents, they ramble a little bit. And there's a big problem that we have. I think this is especially true when we're talking about strategy and performance updates on campaigns because a client will ask a question, and you'll just go off and explain 10 other different things to try and explain that one question. And that might be a lack of preparation, but really because the person presenting, the person in charge, didn't develop what the proper flow would be for the presentation.

And we'll outline in a minute, there are 16 different ways to structure and organize a presentation flow. But in order to determine the flow, you need to first figure out the right way to develop the content of your presentation.

The first step here is to get everything on paper with a brainstorming process, and then start to categorize things in a way that the flow itself should jump off the paper. You should first have the content out there before you determine the way to structure it. You have to first do the right brain process before the left brain, the creativity. Let's get it all out there. And unfortunately, most people stop there, and that's when you have something that is a data dump when they're just the creative, just the right brain stuff. Or just the left brain side where it's too logical and not enough creativity in place. 

Esther, talk to me about your thoughts on the brainstorming stage of creating a presentation.

Esther Nadoff: I think the brainstorming stage is the most important and fundamental part. It depends on how someone wants to go about it; if it's a team brainstorming session, if it's just internal, doing your own thing. But the idea would be that you're just writing everything down, doing that excessive data dump. It could be in a Google Doc, it could be on a whiteboard with all your information there. But the concept would be to try to get everything down first, and then kind of clustering everything into different sections. Then creating different concepts, different pods based on the data that you have. And then that will help begin to clearly have a flow by categorizing everything and clustering it properly.

But I think there are a few different things to talk about when you're doing that clustering, when you're doing that process where you're going to sort and select and eliminate, add, organize all these different raw materials, all these different data points that you have into a form that flows more logically, and you're bringing the audience from point A to point B. There are a few different things to think about. 

There are different parameters of your presentation. So you have to think of the presentation as a blank canvas within a frame. The idea would be you have to keep in mind that point B. You have to start with the objective insight and work towards it. You also have that audience that discusses and analyzes what your intended audience knows, and what it needs to know in order to do what you want them to do or believe what you want them to believe. 

So you have to think about how you can make the benefits to your audience crystal clear. And then there are also the external factors that can impact your message. Some will be positive, some will be negative. For example, when making a strategy pitch, the fact that there is a rapidly expanding market for your specific product would be a positive external factor. While let's say the emergence of a new competitor in your competitive landscape would be more of a negative external factor. So you have to keep in mind the external factors, and also the setting.

I think this is something we have to think about also in terms of the physical setting of your presentation. How much time will be allotted? That takes a play into how much information you want to be adding to your presentation. Where will it be? Is it more of a discussion group? Is it more of just you presenting and then asking questions at the end? I think that's something that we really need to keep in mind when it comes to creating presentations. All of this plays into that brainstorming session to help generate those different ideas into those different sections.

Patrick Gilbert: I think what you're really describing here is just do the word vomit exercise, and then try and think about what are the common pieces of this together? Is it, oh we have a bunch of stuff here that all seem to fit under a category of negative externalities. Okay, maybe there should be a point in the presentation where we talk about negative externalities. Oh, there are other things here that are positive. There are other things here that are separate from that. How can we start to group these? 

Weissman uses the analogy of you group these things together as if they're Roman columns, and say, "Well, that's important." So you have your major columns. Then at the end of that process, you're going to have stuff that doesn't fit into those columns and that should be removed. That's the data dump stuff where you start to trim the fat. Does it fit into the Roman column? Is there a clear audience benefit? Does this help progress to point B? If not, get it out. It's fine, don't feel guilty. 

And then once you have all that, then you can look at the different forms or flow structures to figure out how you can group this together. We're not going to go into detail with all these. I'm just going to give a couple of examples, but the book does, Presenting to Win does go into detail with all 16. But just to read them out, we have modular, chronological, physical, spatial, problems/solutions, issues/actions, opportunities/leverage, form, function features, benefits, case study, argument fallacy, compare/contrast matrix, parallel tracks, rhetorical questions, and numerical. And that's a mouthful. 

Again, what I probably did was that everyone in the audience played their eyes over. However, my point here is that every single presentation can be different. It doesn't have to follow the exact same structure every time. The first one that I listed here is modular. That's something that I think all too often we fall victim to, or we choose that because we haven't thought creatively about, "Maybe we should frame this under..." Like a case study, maybe we should be looking at this from a form function flow structure. 

And until you know what that is, you're never going to consider it. A modular is where the cadence of it is sort of arbitrary. We have all these different Roman columns, these major points, and they can be piecemealed in any way and moved back and forth. The example here is if you're presenting financial documents, it really doesn't matter if you use the balance sheet or the income statement first. For most CFOs, it doesn't really matter. Some people just have a preference. There's not necessarily a need for it. 

But if you're presenting an investor pitch, there's probably a reason why something comes before after the next piece. So, as you start to learn more about these concepts, I think it's really important and it allows you to realize the ideal flow structure for whatever you're trying to present. 

Right now, I'm working on a presentation that I'm going to be giving at a conference next week. And when I started this whole process, I really tried to go by the book in terms of the brainstorming session and back to what we finally ended up with. When I originally wrote down my point B, I assumed that the proper flow structure for my presentation was going to be a problem/solution, meaning you outline a problem that's taking place that marketers experience, and then, "Here's my solution". And in the book, there's a framework for how you do those types of presentations. 

However, as I went through my brainstorming session, I actually was able to come up with a few different ideas that gave me a whole different angle. What presented itself was that there's another company that I'm using as an analogy throughout the entire presentation. So I'm now following a parallel track flow structure because I've gone through this step-by-step process outlined here. And I happen to think that this presentation is 10 times better than it would have been if I just took the problem/solution assumption from the start, and just started my left-brain process of fitting it into a presentation. 

So I think that your whole point about the brainstorming process and getting everything out there and then grouping it together really does make a significant impact, especially when you can say, "I've never done a presentation that's done parallel tracks before." "I've never done a form function flow structure before. This might be an opportunity for me to be able to see what that's like." I think it's really cool.

Esther Nadoff: I'm excited to see that presentation.

Patrick Gilbert: Thanks. Well, we still have some work to do and I'm definitely going to need your input by the way. Those are the first three cardinal signs. So there's no clear point, no audience benefit, and no proper flow. Those are the first three. The last two are too detailed and too long. 

There's not a lot of practical information that we want to dive into here. I think just keeping all these cardinal sins in mind will help people dramatically improve their presentations and their communications with whatever they're trying to get across. 

The last thing I want to leave with, though, is the idea of an opening gambit.  We started this podcast by talking about how audiences will only retain information for about seven minutes. TED talks go 18 minutes. But how do we get information? How do we get attention to start? How do we deserve that? And good presenters will tell you that it's with a good strong opening gambit. Meaning, what is that cool thing that you start off with? What's your hook at the beginning? 

I remember learning about this in an English class in high school where you can start a thesis paper with a quote, or a fact, or something like that. But Weissman outlines good opening gambits, I believe there are seven of them. You have anecdotes, you have a question that you can ask the audience, you make an analogy, you can use an aphorism, a factoid, provide some retrospective, or perspective, or quote. So very similar to what we all learned in 10th grade English class.

But, Esther, in your experience, what sort of thoughts do you have around the opening gambit? What works? What doesn't work? What's too cheesy? Does any of this actually make a difference?

Esther Nadoff: Yeah. This year, Netflix came out with the Queen's Gambit so we all learned about the opening moves in chess. But I think it's a similar concept here in terms of presenting. Your entire success largely depends on those first few crucial moves early on in the game in chess. You can't win a chess game with your opening move, but you can definitely lose it. 

The same applies here where we want to make sure with our opening gambits that we're choosing the right options. We're thinking about what our audience wants to hear in order to get them interested, get them excited about it. I feel like I've been at so many presentations where it's a question, and then it's like, "Raise your hand if this." Maybe that's just a little cliche. I feel like I like the other ones that you mentioned. You brought up the factoid, retrospective perspective anecdote. These are different unique options that aren't as typical. And I think they're definitely an option people should consider. 

Patrick Gilbert: Yeah, definitely. I've been in a million of these conferences, where they're like, "Raise your hand if you wish you could grow your business." And it's like, that's a bad opening gambit. But you also remember a really good one. I think the best example of this is, I love the story of Finding Nemo, and how that came to be. I think it's outlined in the book Creativity, Inc, by Ed Catmull. 

Andrew Stanton was the guy at Pixar that conceptualized, wrote, and would go on to direct Finding Nemo. And it was such high pressure, especially back then, where they were only making a couple of movies a year that if you wanted an idea to get made into a movie, you really needed to have a strong pitch. So he put his blood, sweat, and tears into this pitch. And it was an hour-long presentation about how they were going to tell the story, what sort of technology they were going to use, and all these different things that were going to make this a blockbuster hit. 

At the very end of it, the entire Pixar room was bored. Steve Jobs was in the room and everybody went silent. And John Lasseter, who was the chief creative officer at the time, broke the silence by just smiling and saying, "You had me at fish." And I guess whatever it was in his opening line, and, again, we have no idea what that was, but whatever his opening gambit was, it was powerful enough to get his audience, the chief creative officer who was really the most important person in the room, he completely won them over. 

So you can absolutely be able to do this. Even if this is a dramatized story, you can absolutely get this with a really strong opening gambit, but the key is to just capture the audience's attention, and then gradually bring them into whatever that proper focus or flow is of your presentation. 

In closing, I think we've talked about a lot of different things here, but the main thing that I've taken away from this entire experience is to really be mindful of the data dump. I think so many presentations are bad because of the data dump. We really need to be mindful of it. We need to start with a strong opening gambit. We need to make our point B abundantly clear. We need to illuminate the audience's benefit, and we need to be mindful of the WIIFY concept. 

And then the last piece here is we need to practice proper preparation. We really need to put in the time and the effort to go through this brainstorming session. It sounds cheesy; the whole whiteboard thing. I am telling you from experience, going through that process that you outlined before, Esther, is so beneficial to be able to deliver something that is clean and has proper flow. 

Do you have any other points or thoughts on this whole concept here?

Esther Nadoff: I love it. I do think these are helpful and practical tips for starting presentations and actually doing presentations that are successful in the goal that you're trying to achieve. I guess my question is—it's too intimidating how to actually start on a practical level one thing—what's the most important thing that you would say to help guide the process a bit more?

Patrick Gilbert: I think it depends on what someone's largest opportunity is. I think depending on who you are, maybe it's helpful to have a colleague or a friend or somebody point out and go over these things and say, "Hey, listen, here's a couple of new cardinal sins that I learned about. What do you think is my biggest problem?"

For some people, it's the data dump thing. For others. It's the lack of clear flow, I think that's actually been a huge miss with our agency, and presentations that I've seen is that too many of our presentations over the years have been modular. And with a couple of these tricks, we can make it more focused on that. I think all of them are helpful. Just run through this checklist in your mind and be like, "Okay, cool, what's my point B? Alright, that's sort of point B." "Who's my audience? All right, we're keeping along with the audience."

It's not as if there's a way to do this perfectly, but just be mindful of these as you go down the list, and try to be self-aware about what you're good at, and what you're lacking in, and then try to work on that. And I think everyone can improve the way that they give presentations. 

And the whole reason, by the way, that this came up, I mean, is we recently had a day of learning. We refer to it at AdVenture Media, as DOLAH, which is a day of learning and happiness. The acronym started as a joke and then it kind of stuck. But everyonE has a chance to present something that they've been working on, that they found interesting to teach the rest of the team about whatever it is they want to.

Before going into that, we all talked about these concepts. We all went over the cardinal sins. And I was absolutely blown away by all the presentations. We sat through 20-some presentations by everyone on the team And we had done this same type of DOLAH thing three months ago. And the progress that was made collectively across the board from every single person that was now mindful of these things blew me away. 

So, if you just keep these things in mind, I promise you that you will be able to significantly improve the main goal, which is we need to inform audiences, we need to make them less dubious and less skeptical, and we need to be able to get them to convince them point B. We need to motivate them to do whatever we want them to do. These tricks have certainly been helpful for me and I think they'll be helpful for others as well. 

Esther Nadoff: Amazing. 

Patrick Gilbert: Excellent. Esther, thanks for coming on. This is fantastic. Definitely have to have you back on again. Last question. Where would you hide a dead body?

Esther Nadoff: Second page of the search results on Google.Patrick Gilbert: Perfect. Thank you. This has been the How to Hide a Dead Body podcast. I'm Patrick Gilbert, AdVenture Media Group. We'll catch you next time.

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