Palmer Pearson
Cadence Design Systems, Inc.


Have you ever sat through a presentation and not been able to recall the main point? Have you presented and been totally unaware that your audience was dreaming about their vacation plans instead of intently dwelling on slide 32 of your six-month strategy? Everyone can be guilty of lulling others to sleep, but as technical communicators, we are under added pressure to be concise and to inform.

I have no problem admitting that I am easily bored. There are a number of things I do not like. Among these are watching political conventions of either party, celebrities who will do anything to keep their name in print long after the music has faded, anchovy pizza, and worst of all, long presentations.

Giving them is fine. I do not have to listen to myself. But being on the receiving end is too tedious. I have been bored to death with a lot of presentations. I can visualize my obituary: “His death was caused by acute PowerPoint poisoning. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that you please strive to present your topics in an interesting manner in his memory.” The sad part is I know I am not the only one.

So, before I head off to that great presentation-less conference room in the sky, I am on a mission to improve presentations, one by one. The goal I advocate is for everyone to be interesting, maybe even captivating. To that end, I have included

Pearson’s Rules of Presentations

Rule #1: Shorten your talk at all costs. Give ten minute presentations 90 percent of the time. Conversely, give ninety minute presentations never.

Rule #2: Skip the verbal foreplay. Get to the good part right away. The clock is ticking and chances are that most of the attendees did not want to be there in the first place.

Rule #3: Invite only those who care or have a need to know. Blanket status reports and announcements are better left to emails or internal press releases.

Rule #4: Make it fun. Even a casket makers’ convention can be fun if you want it to be. Try adding video clips, live models, props, or music. Providing pizza and Diet Coke is getting old.

Rule #5: Change the setting. When possible, move the presentation. Try the parking lot, the beach, the track.

Most of us are too close to our presentations. We think every word on a slide is a dramatic statement of our unique and keen insight. The main theme may be important, but please spare me the details.

  • Sentences are better than paragraphs
  • Bulleted lists are better than sentences
  • Cold beers are better than bulleted lists (as illustrated below)

Which would you prefer? “From the graph on slide 32, you will notice our market share in Iowa has improved by 30% in the last fiscal year. Good job everyone.” Or “Due to all of our efforts, we now own Iowa. For specific details, let’s meet for a toast at Joe’s Bar around the corner. We can celebrate there. Additional information is on our Webpage.”

The bottom line is this: inform me, do not bore me—and do it fast, my attention span for fluff is shrinking. The goal of any ten minute presentation should include a five minute break and a one minute Q&A session. Whether you decide to use jugglers, magicians, or guys from Sales in your presentation is entirely up to you.