Secret #4 of star presenters: Scott @Berkun on “slide slavery” (with @NancyDuarte and Garr Reynolds)

enslaved presenterWhen you’re preparing for a presentation, what’s your first impulse?

If you’re like most people, you’ll begin preparing for a talk by opening PowerPoint (or Keynote, or whatever’s your preferred slide tool) and building slides. But this brief post is here to plead with you to do something different

My plea is that you heed author Scott Berkun’s warning when he says:

“If you make slides first, you become a slide slave.
You will spend all your time perfecting your slides,
instead of perfecting your thoughts.”

To help you with a better approach, in this post you’ll also find 3 specific questions that Scott recommends you ask when you begin preparing your talk. (And you’ll see what expert presenters Nancy Duarte and Garr Reynolds have to say on the subject, too.)

Scott’s the author of the book Confessions of a Public Speaker. In it, he wrote this immortal line:

“All good public speaking is based on good private thinking”

So please, as Scott suggests, do the mental groundwork before you start to make your slides – assuming you use slides at all!

Nancy Duarte and Garr Reynolds agree

He’s not alone, either. Both Nancy Duarte (author of books like slide:ology and The HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations) and Garr Reynolds (author of Presentation Zen and The Naked Presenter) echo Scott’s approach.

In a 2½-minute video, Nancy says:

“Hammer out what you want to say
and then think about the visuals”

And as Garr Reynolds puts it:

“Before you even open up presentation software,
sit down and really think…”

What are the consequences of ignoring their advice? Well, both Scott and Nancy have some choice words on that subject.

Scott says:

“Most people… immediately begin making slides,
and they may as well tie a noose around their own necks”

Nancy’s take is even briefer:

“Don’t commit career suislide”

So, what can you do?

Specifically then, how do these experts suggest you prepare? Scott puts it this way:

“Start by thinking about the audience. Why are they coming?
What questions are they hoping you will answer
about the topic? What are your well thought out answers?”

Likewise, Garr Reynolds says:

“What is the real purpose of your talk?
…What does the audience expect?”

The bottom line

So there you have it, then: Stern warnings from authors Scott Berkun, Nancy Duarte and Garr Reynolds about the risks of “slide slavery”, paired with solid advice on what you can do to avoid it in your own presentations.

Over to you

  • What’s your view on Scott, Nancy and Garr’s advice?
  • What are some of your favourite tips or quotes from expert presenters?
  • I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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4 thoughts on “Secret #4 of star presenters: Scott @Berkun on “slide slavery” (with @NancyDuarte and Garr Reynolds)

  1. Pingback: Project : Create a TED like event in next 60 days focussed on volunteering | YFS 2014 Internships

  2. Great advice! I usually bring out a blank piece of paper and/or open up my word document on my computer. Not sure if that’s the same thing.

    I think the advice is always great to keep in the back of your head. You may be the expert in what you are talking about, but your audience may not always be. I think that’s the advice I got from veteran speakers: the speeches are more for the audience, rather than yourself.


    • Thanks Vivien.

      I’d say it doesn’t matter too much whether you use a pen and paper or you use software. (The main thing is just not to be making slides!)

      I’m often torn between those two media. I can capture thoughts more quickly and flexibly on paper, but then it seems a bit of a waste to have to also transfer my thoughts to my laptop later.


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