It is shocking, but true: the secret to awesome presentations is simplicity. Even big ideas and complicated concepts should be packaged in presentations that are simple for audiences to understand and embrace.
You can still challenge your audience. You can also deliver presentations that have depth of meaning and feature complex designs. Challenging material, depth of meaning, and sophisticated designs are all vital to the success of a presentation.
As Clement Mok explained: Very often, people confuse simple with simplistic. The nuance is lost on most.
Successful presentations are simple, and utilize simplicity, without being simplistic.
Deliver a presentation of profound simplicity by following these 5 rules:
#1: Write one sentence.
Simplify your presentation topic to a one-sentence summary before you begin writing or designing your presentation. If you cannot explain your presentation in one sentence, you are not ready to create your presentation.
As a consultant for TEDx speakers, I have witnessed firsthand how powerful a one-sentence summary can be for speakers during the presentation creation process. At some point during the presentation development process, many of the TEDx speakers I consulted lost sight of their overall message because they were too focused on weaving together the supporting elements, and forgot to just get to the point of their presentation. They couldn’t land the plane. Instead they were in the clouds, circling the main idea. Luckily, this problem has a simple solution: the one sentence summary. The one-sentence description serves as a compass, making it easy to explore ideas without getting lost in the land of possibilities.
If you think your idea is too big for a one-sentence summary, consider that Daniel Pink, the chief speechwriter for Vice President Al Gore from 1995 to 1997, and author of three New York Times bestsellers, suggests writing a one-sentence description of the purpose of your life.
Pink derived inspiration for his advice from a story about Clare Boothe Luce, the first American woman to represent her country to a major world power. In 1962 Luce said to John F. Kennedy, a great man is one sentence. Luce advised Kennedy to write his one-sentence summary. She was telling him to concentrate, to know the great themes and demands of his time and focus on them, according to the Wall Street Journal article, To-Do List: A Sentence, Not 10 Paragraphs.
Get inspired to write a one-sentence summary for your next presentation, as well as your life, by watching Dan Pink’s video, Two Questions That Can Change Your Life.
#2: Use three pillars.
With the purpose of your presentation simply stated in one sentence, you can start to develop your presentation content by creating an outline. When constructing your outline, edit your material until you have no more than three main ideas supporting your overall message.
Remember, great presentations are simple to understand and enjoy. By building the message of your presentation on a foundation of three key points, you are simplifying the experience for your audience. In addition, you are making it easy for your audience to recall the flow of your presentation.
#3: Add meaning.
To spice up your presentation without overcomplicating your content, use a story to develop one of your three supporting ideas. Your story should not be an epic tale that is long-winded and open to interpretation; it should a simple tale that connects easily with your one-sentence summary.
If you are not sure how to start crafting your story, follow the classic three-act storytelling structure. Build your story around a setup, a struggle, and a resolution.
#4: Answer WIIFM?
If you follow the simplification steps listed above, you will have a powerful presentation that is easy to understand, and a pleasure to experience. Audience members however will still expect a simple answer to the question: What’s In It For Me? Integrate your answer into your entire presentation, especially your closing remarks.
Conclude your presentation by driving home the connection between your material and the audience. Ideally, a call-to-action will be a part of your final answer so audience members know what to do with their knowledge. You simplified the entire presentation experience for your audience; you also need to simplify the process of interacting with your message once the presentation is over.
#5 Use simple words.
When you transform the elements of your presentation outline into a speech, use simple words. Pretend your presentation will be delivered to an audience of children. Don’t worry; this won’t diminish the quality of your content. Your audience will appreciate the ease of listening to your talk. By eliminating unnecessary industry jargon, and opting for ordinary language, you are simplifying the listening experience for your audience.
For example, some of Steve Jobs’ success as a presenter can be attributed to his ability to use simple words and short sentences to describe big ideas. A study revealed that during one presentation in 2007, Jobs spoke at approximately a 5th grade level.
The bottom line: Deliver a presentation that is simple to understand and enjoy.