The Best Presentation Advice We’ve Ever Received

As a startup entrepreneur, you’ll give a lot of presentations: from presenting at business plan competitions, to showcasing your product to prospective customers, to pitching in front of investors. Here is some of the best advice we have heard about how to prepare for presentations:

1. Q&A matters more, so go short, not long.

PW_13_1.jpgIn a typical scenario, you’ll be given 10 minutes to present, followed by 10 minutes of Q&A. It’s tempting to jam 20 minutes of content into your 10 minutes of presentation time, but that’s not a good strategy because (a) you’ll be talking way too fast to be intelligible and, more importantly, (b) you may not actually be giving the audience the information they really want.

Because although you can try to tailor your presentation to your audience, you can never know for sure what they’re interested in until you hear their questions. I’ve had Q&As take me in completely different directions than what I had expected. So treat your presentation like a movie trailer—keep it punchy, concise, and well under the time limit—and then let the audience tell you, via the questions, what they’re really interested in learning more about.

2. Always start from scratch.

PW_13_2.jpgWhen you have a five-minute presentation to prepare for, it’s tempting to just take the 10-minute presentation from a similar past event and cut out half the slides. But you don’t want to do that. Never start by editing down or rearranging an existing presentation, because then you’re being guided by the slides and not by the story. Instead, start by outlining the story you want to tell, either on paper or with post-its or with blank slides, and once you have the outline done, then you can go back and see if there are existing slides you can reuse. Any slides you can’t use are candidates for the appendix.

3. Be clear, not clever.

PW_13_3.jpgIt’s tempting to come up with creative new ways to explain your concept or to display data. That’s good up to a point. However, since you don’t have a lot of time to get your points across, the goal is to be clear. Don’t try to come up with new, complicated ways to explain established standard concepts such as market size or financial projections. Use the format that people are used to seeing, because the last thing you want is for them to stop paying attention to you when they are deciphering the slide behind you.

4. Slide quality demonstrates your ability to execute.

PW_13_4.jpgYour slide quality is an example to your audience of whether you can “get stuff done.” You’re not a designer, you’re an entrepreneur, so relax, you’re being judged pass/fail. The goal is for your slides to look neat and professional, but not so nice that your audience wonders if you spend all your time in PowerPoint.

5. Above all, sell yourself, not your startup.

PW_13_5.jpgIn the early stages of your startup, you may not have a product to demo or testimonials to report. All you have is your idea, your vision, and yourself. And that’s okay.

Because the goal of any presentation is really to generate follow-up, whether it’s a teacher who checks out your website, a judge who takes another look at your business plan, or a potential investor who decides to take another look at your business. All of these follow-up opportunities give your audience the chance to learn more about your startup, but the presentation is your one shot to present yourself as a credible, honest, and thoughtful entrepreneur who they may want to work with. So make sure to be yourself!

Hopefully this advice will be as helpful to you as it has been to me. I know that there are lots of great resources out there about how to present well, but I find that these five takeaways always help ground me when I get anxious preparing for a presentation.   

Until next time,


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Photo Credit: Flickr user ImagineCup, adactio, Alan O’Rourke, Ludovic Bertron, Phillippe Put

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