Dodging the Bullet Point: Seven Essential Steps to Successful Presentations

Every day around the world, people are giving presentations. Unfortunately, many of them are unpleasant experiences that waste both time and money. It's madness.

Clear, high-quality presentations take time to create because good presentations are, at heart, good stories. The way to end the madness is to stop presenting slabs of data and information, and to start telling a story.

From our experience, we have found the following seven steps essential to creating successful presentations:

1. Know What You Want To Get

To know what you want to get out of the presentation, know your audience. Start by asking:

  • Who do you want to impact most?
  • What specific decisions do you want to be made?
  • Which specific behavioral changes you would like to see?


The goal you establish at the outset is the criterion against which every slide and every statement should be measured.

2. Know What You Want To Say

Pick the three things you are going to say that will engage your audience and meet the above objective(s). Tell your audience these three things up-front. This process is a two-way interaction; include them early to make it feel that way.

Why three? How we encode information directly affects our ability to remember it. Research on how we're able to manage and recall information suggests that we fare better with only two or three chunks of information than we do with more.

3. Say It In A Story

Information design is its own discipline and well worth reading up on. If you're unable to do that, or lack access to skilled resources to bring charts and graphs and other data-rich information to life, then at least pick a clear presentation format and stick with it.

5. A Short Story - No Novels

Don't expect a presentation to do all of the heavy lifting of informing your audience. Bring supplemental, more detailed materials for your audience to refer to afterwards. If you design effective supplemental materials, your colleagues are less likely to forward the presentation via email without forwarding its ancillary materials.

6. Slides Are Catapults - Not Crutches

There is a common adage that you should only spend two minutes per slide. Don't believe it. Remember, you're not reading; you're presenting. The words on your slides are merely cues, sparks used to ignite discussion. Three great slides on a substantive topic can generate 30 minutes of useful and meaningful dialogue, adding texture to the overall story and allowing you to reveal further detail, insights and expertise.

If your slides are so text-dense that your audience could simply read the deck and get the point of your presentation, then save them the time and just mail it in.

7. Read Your Audience And Adapt

Ultimately, a presentation is about making a connection with your audience, not about simply "getting through it." I once asked a friend how one of his presentations went, and he said, "Great presentation, wrong audience."

We've all sat through events where the presenter was determined to get through every slide, regardless. If my friend had read his audience and focused on the key points that would have kept them engaged, they would have been the "right audience".

Acknowledging and adapting to your audience means you'll be able to take things in stride when a question is raised out of left field, when the projector breaks down, when your host cuts your planned time in half, or when the CEO "drops in" to hear what you have to say. We believe implementing these seven tips will create stronger engagement during your meetings, greater retention of the information presented, and greater clarity in achieving the objective you identified before you wrote the deck. If you do, in fact, see these results, we would ask you to share this article with your colleagues. After all, you'll be watching their presentations, too.

Ron Cappello is the founder and CEO of Infinia Group, a brand strategy and design firm based in New York City. He can be contacted at 212-463-5101 and