2 min Read
January 28, 2010

Presenting: What we can all learn from Steve Jobs

Many years ago, I attended a conference for creative professionals organized by “How” Magazine. The keynote speaker got on stage in front of the 3,500 people and began with these words: “Powerpoint is sucking the life out of us all”. Within seconds, almost everyone in the auditorium was on their feet, applauding and cheering wildly. It was a moment of solidarity: the tedium of preparing presentations is something many people suffer from.

If you’re one of those people who dreads creating presentations (or even if you’re simply uninspired), I suggest you watch Al Gore or Steve Jobs in action. When Steve Jobs announced the highly anticipated iPad (can we talk about that name some time??) on January 27, 2010, he did so with a Keynote presentation (Keynote is the Mac equivalent of PowerPoint).

Steve Jobs introducing the iPad to the world

But did you feel you were watching a slideshow? Definitely not. Same thing with Al Gore’s film, “Inconvenient Truth”, which is basically two hours Al Gore talking through a really fancy Keynote presentation about climate change.

Steve Jobs and Al Gore both understand the following key elements of making a compelling presentation:

  • Nobody wants to read bullets or too much copy on a slide.
  • Images (particularly ones that are dramatic or funny) can underscore a point well.
  • Slides should support and complement what you’re saying- not repeat it.
  • You’ve got to know your content: practice, practice, practice.
  • Use language your audience can relate to- not your own insider jargon.
  • Those generic slide templates don’t add anything: creating original slides where large images and type dominate is much more interesting.

When you’re presenting information about a difficult issue or making a compelling case to a donor, using images and brief phrases rather than bullets puts more pressure on you to outline and/or script your comments and get creative. Here are a four tools to help you do that.

Flickr– is a photo sharing site where individuals post their images. When people post their photos or illustrations, they can select how they are willing to share their image using a copyright resource called Creative Commons. Many individuals allow you to use their photos non-commercially (for instance, in your presentation) if you give them credit. Just scroll down to the bottom right corner in Flickr and you’ll see if you have the creator’s permission to use the image you’ve found. (If you do use someone’s image, it’s polite to email them and let them know.)

Slideshare– This website allows individuals to post presentations they’ve made and share them publicly or privately. Watching other people’s presentations, particularly if they’re on a topic you enjoy, can help you spark ideas. If you’re not sure where to start, check out the top presentations of the day on the homepage, or search for slideshows by nonprofit social media guru Beth Kanter.

Ask questions. Asking questions helps get your audience involved and can break through the wall between presenter and audience. Walk around the room or chat informally with people before you get started to ask their opinions about the topic you’ll be discussing, or ask a ‘show of hands’ every so often while you’re speaking. Throughout your presentation, try to come back to the issues that were raised and weave them in to your comments so participants feel you’ve heard and addressed them directly.
There are also several books about presenting, if you want to make a study of it.