Episode 73 – Effective Presentations with Ellen Finkelstein

Ellen dropped additional nuggets of sales and marketing goodness in the EXTENDED Interview. Be sure to click here to access all of our great extended interviews, transcripts and more within our Insider's Club.

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Ellen Finkelstein is a recognized expert, speaker, trainer, and best-selling author on PowerPoint, presentation skills, and AutoCAD. Her articles have appeared in numerous magazines, newsletters, and blogs.

She is a PowerPoint MVP (Most Valuable Professional).There are only 40 PowerPoint MVPs in the world, and 11 in the United States.

Her Web site offers a huge assortment of tips, techniques, tutorials, and articles on these topics.

Training, coaching, and consulting

Ellen conducts training, in the form of workshops and webinars, that help people present more effectively. She also offers coaching and consulting. The result is more sales, more success, and happier audiences.

Podcast Transcription

Brian Basilico: Welcome, everybody and I'm really excited to have our guest today. Ellen Finkelstein is an absolute expert at using PowerPoint, so I wanted to bring her on so we can get some great tips and information about how to do better presentations.

Ellen, how are you doing today?

Ellen Finkelstein: I'm fine. I'm great.

Brian: So tell us a little bit about your back story. How did you get to become a PowerPoint presentation expert?

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Ellen: What happened was, is I started writing some books about PowerPoint in 1995. I don't even remember how it happened, but somebody as a publisher, [McRoy Hill] asked me if I could write a book about – oh, it was an answer key to a book for educators about PowerPoint. They gave me the textbook that they authored and I was supposed to write some questions and answers so that the teachers could give tests and that's how I learned PowerPoint. I read the book and then I wrote test questions based on the book. Somehow it continued from there. It was kind of a little sneaky. I didn't admit that I didn't know PowerPoint when they asked me.

So I started writing more about PowerPoint, but the big thing happened when I was writing article about presentations to something called Presentations Magazine – it doesn't exist anymore. It's over 10 years ago and I wrote an article called “PowerPoint Without Bullets” and it was a great topic. But I used an example of a slide. Let's just say it was a really ugly slide. It didn't have any bullet points, but it was ugly. Someone actually wrote a letter to the editor saying, “How could you publish such a bad example of a slide?”

The editor didn't tell me about it. I just read it in the next edition on the letters to the editor and I was mortified, I was horrified. So I realized that I needed to learn how to create good-looking slides because I knew the program, but I'm not the designer. I'm pretty artistically challenged and yet I needed to learn how to create slides that looked good. So I started going to something called Presentation Summit. It's a conference every year, I read books, I looked at prize-winning presentations and I started writing more and more about PowerPoint and learning how to create good slides, and finally I became a what's called PowerPoint MVP. This is a Microsoft Award Most Valuable Professional that they give to the top picks person there in their different products and there are only 11 of us in the United States – there are 40-some odd in the world.

And one of the things is not only do we have to be an expert in the product, but we have to give freely to the user community. So that's really how it started and that whole process, I created an actual system, which I'll tell you about – I'm sure you'll ask me about that. So that anybody who's not a designer can create great-looking slides.

Brian: Awesome. Can you give us some examples of what you consider to be bad PowerPoint presentations?

Ellen: Well, everybody has seen them. Really, the funny thing about it is everybody knows what's bad PowerPoint, but because they don't have any other examples of good PowerPoint, they do the same bad stuff that they know is really bad. Basically, bad PowerPoint is putting all the text that you're going to read on the slide, all the text that you're going to say on the slide and then reading it. Not only does it kind of turn you into a robot because it's up there and you have to just read it. But people hate it. They can read faster than you can talk, so they just read through the slide, they shut your voice out and, “Shut up! I want to read. I can read.” And people hate it.

Now, there are other things that make bad presentations. For example, not saying something that the audience needs and wants to hear, or not saying anything that's going to meet your goals either. It's not only the slides, of course. It's the content and it's how you deliver it.

Brian: I hate to date myself, but I go way, way back when I worked at AT&T. We used to have overhead projectors and then they take a typewritten page and they bring it over to a machine, they put it on a clear piece of plastic, so you're reading little itty-bitty type. It was even way worse back then.

Ellen: Right. Yes, absolutely. I remember overhead projectors and I remember physical slides with carousel projectors as well – those kinds of things which were very expensive and PowerPoint really changed the whole world of projecting and presenting because people could do it themselves. You didn't have to send it out to a company to actually make those slides, but what happened was it gave people the ability to do it, but didn't really teach them how to do it well.

Another thing that people still do is put up so much text on the slide that people in the audience can't read it and most people have heard, “I know you really can't read this, but…” and then they just go and read the slides so what's the point? Really what presenters often do is they put it up there as a teleprompter for themselves and it's really not very good for engaging with the audience.

Brian: Yes, very good point.

So what on your mind makes a good presentation?

Ellen: You want to think about the content, and the design and the delivery. Those are the three components of a presentation. In terms of the content, you want to think about what your goal as a presenter is, but then you really want to think about the audience, what's going to help them? What's going to move them to action? What are they going to implement? What level are they are, so that you can provide them with information that they need? What's going to persuade them if that's your goal? That's one thing. You want to move people to action to implementation.

Now the other thing that makes a good presentation will be your slides which support your content and you just want to support it. The result of all of that study that I did was a method that I call the “tell and show” method and I have to give some credit to a man named Michael Alley at Pennsylvania State School of Engineering. He called it “assertion evidence” but he did quite a bit of research of different types of slides and then tested the students and saw which ones help people understand and remember the material. Basically the idea is that you have some text at the top, it's the title that actually says something and then you show it in some way.

It can be a photo, it could be a graph, it could be a map, but whatever it is, you want to say something and then show something. And then you want to deliver it in a way that's clear, and energetic, engages the audience especially if you're live with a group of people there and if you write a webinar, you engage people by asking them questions and answering their questions and doing polls. That's the delivery side of it. Those are the three things that make a good presentation.

Brian: Awesome. Are there some basic tips that you can offer our audience about putting together a really great presentation?

Ellen: The first thing is to consider your content and make sure that your content is going to be useful and valuable to the audience, but still meet whatever your goals might be for the presentation. One of the [inaudible] of the tell and show method is to put one point on a slide. That doesn't mean you don't ever summarize things together. There are three ways of doing something, but then you want to break it out into individual slides and go into each one in detail. What happens is that we have a short-term memory that's very limited. We can only remember a few things at a time, so counter to intuition, if I put more stuff on, they're going to remember more – it's actually the opposite. You want to break it up into little chunks, put a little bit on each slide and people will actually understand more and remember more.

The ability, when you put one point on a slide like that, you have lots of room for images and images have the potential to be much more persuasive than text is something called “picture superiority concept” that has shown that and there's 40 years of research on it. So you can be much more persuasive when you put one point on a slide as well. Thinking of your goal and the audience, making these simple slides so they don't have to be complicated, you don't have to be an artist but just tell your point and show your point and then good lively delivery.

Brian: Ellen, some great advice.

Can you give me some examples of common presentation mistakes that people make, whether it's live, or webinars, or what have you?

Ellen: One of the big things that I see mistakes that people make is that they don't practice. The result of it, everybody has seen this. You're sitting in the audience and you start presenting and then 10 minutes before it's over, the presenter is like, “Oh my god, I have half of my presentation left so I'm going to have to rush through the stuff.” The whole end of it is just this whole rush thing, “And I'm going to skip through these slides.” There's actually no way for you to know that you have the right amount of material except by practicing it out, and timing it, and speaking it out.

Now, if you not only time it but record it, then you can listen to yourself and that's a great exercise. You'll hear your little things that you do about the way you speak. I say so all the time and people say, “You know…” You really hear that and you can start correcting that as well, but that whole timing thing is extremely important. That's a big mistake that I see that people make. And then I can go back to some of the other things I said, is people often just say stuff that is irrelevant to the audience – too simple, or too complicated, or just irrelevant, reading slides we talked about, or common presentation mistakes, having way too much text on a slide, making charts in business presentations – people do charts and graphs and they will make them way too complicated so that people have to stare at it and they can't really figure it out.

There's a concept like a two-second rule, or the three-second rule, or the seven-second rule – different people say different things but the idea is people should look at your slide and pretty instantaneously know what your point is. You do that by making that title actually say something. So for example, let's say you're trying to sell something and you're trying some system that helps people make more money, and you're trying to show how much you earned, and you could just say, “my earnings” but you could say more like “my earnings shot through the roof,” or, “my earnings went to seven figures.” If you actually say the whole point like a headline in a newspaper, then people instantly get it and they don't have to pour over the little numbers that are over there.

Brian: That's awesome.

So what are some of your tips about maximizing a presentation, getting the most out of the time you have in front of your audience?

Ellen: Well, one of the things that people often don't do well is follow-up. When you give a presentation, people are there and they're listening, but you wanted them to do something. It doesn't really make any difference. You could just be training people internally in a company and you want them to implement what you said, or you might want them to buy something – whatever it is, you want to follow up in some ways. So if you're doing the webinar, you create a recording and then you send out the recording the next day so that the people who didn't attend can hear, but even people who did attend, if you given the valuable information, I often find they want to listen to it again to really write down notes and have time to do that. I think that follow up is really, really important that people miss to maximize the benefit of it.

Another thing is what I call “non-slide techniques.” You could do some exercise with the audience and have them break up into twos and practice something, or you can do a demo so you can just show people something. Things that don't involve slides. Now in a webinar situation, you can do a little work up, ask them to write something down and then write it in the check box and read it back. Slides aren't everything and I think for maximizing a presentation, those experiential parts of it, making the presentation an experience is an important way of maximizing a presentation.

Brian: Awesome.

So, I always ask this of all of my guest and it's kind of a tough question to quantify, but how do we measure success when giving a presentation?

Ellen: Well, it depends on the presentation and the situation. Maybe how much bacon people give you, something like that. Do they throw the bacon at you or do they come afterwards and give you a plate of bacon? That's how you measure your success or your failure. I don't know.

Brian: Awesome. Ellen: It depends. If you're trying to sell something, you can measure success with sales. Sometimes you can get feedback. A few weeks ago I was an instructor at the NAMS 13 Conference and everybody gives feedback, so I actually got number ratings and that was really cool to see that out of that 11 people who actually did it, 10 of them gave me a five which is a maximum, one gave me a four. You can see that actual feedback and even if you're not in that kind of situation, you can sometimes ask people for feedback.

You can see how many people took action, so let's say you're doing a training presentation inside a company and you're teaching people how to do something. You're teaching customer service representatives how to deal with customers better, so then you can speak to their supervisor afterwards and say, “Are we getting fewer complaints from our customers?” That's a very common way of measuring the success that people actually implemented what you did. Every presentation should be to change the world a little bit and make it a better place. So you want to look for those clues that people made the world a better place a little bit.

Brian: So Ellen, you've got a system that's going to help people to better-understand how to give presentations. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Ellen: Well, I have a course, it's called “High Persuasion PowerPoint Presentation Program.” I do want to say that even though I use PowerPoint not only in the name, but in the course I talk about PowerPoint, all of it is not just about PowerPoint. A lot of it is about basic principles that you could use with Google Slides, or Keynote, whatever you want to be using. It's the basis of how you can create a persuasive presentation.

I do want to say that I originally thought that trainers didn't persuade, all they did was inform, but they told me that I was wrong. I've been corrected on that. Pretty much every type of presentation has some aspect of persuasion in it. So it has four modules and one of them is about the content, how you can write a persuasive presentation, your script or your webinar script – whatever you're going to be doing – and then I talk about a big deal of it is about images, find the right image and then how to format them so that they look good on the slide.

The third one is about slide layout and different techniques that you can do to make your presentation more consistent and more professional-looking; and then finally I talk about animation and how to use it in presentations and also how not to use it. I didn't really mention this before, but text that flies in, goes upside-down and turns around gives people a headache. That's a good way of not using animation, but you can use animation to show transformation or just to amaze people to be beautiful. I also talk about technology, so technology for webinars, technology for videos in addition to live presentations. That's called “High Persuasion PowerPoint Presentation Program.”

Brian: Well, Ellen, thank you so much for joining us today. This was awesome information. I know I got a lot out of it, my audience got a lot out of it. But if somebody wanted to contact you, what's the best way for them to contact you?

Ellen: Through my website, it's Changetheworldmarketing.com. I mentioned a little bit earlier that when you create presentations, you try to change the world a little bit, so that's what it's all about, Changetheworldmarketing.com.

Brian: All right, Ellen. Thank you so much. I really appreciate you joining us today.

Ellen: Well, thank you, Brian. I enjoyed speaking about it. I love talking about this, and I really appreciate you asking me to speak.

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