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Archive for the 'Presentations' Category

In the entertainment industry, the road to success often starts with "the pitch," a brief presentation to a studio executive by a writer, actor, director, or producer (or a team of these people). If the executive is intrigued by the concept, it might be discussed further within the studio, and eventually a decision will be made about funding production. With so much riding on this short presentation, it’s a high-anxiety event, and making pitches is a vital communication skill. In fact, the ability to pitch effectively is so important that it has its own industry slang term: being "good in a room." Pitches can fall flat for a number of reasons, whether the concept is just not a good fit for a particular studio, the idea is so unusual that the executives are unwilling to risk investing in it, or the pitch is just poorly presented. A presenter may fail by being unable to summarize what a new show or movie idea is all about, by smothering the executives in too many details, or by trying too hard to sell the concept. Comedy super-agent Peter Principato, recently profiled in the New York Times, gives his clients presentation advice that lends itself to a wide range of business presentations in just about any profession or industry:

  • First, come up with a single compelling sentence that describes the show or movie. If presenters can’t do this, chances are they haven’t thought the idea out well enough, or the idea is so complicated that it would be too risky or too expensive to attempt. This one-line summary is essential for another reason, in that the first studio executive to hear the pitch will usually need to share it with other executives or potential financiers before a decision can be made. A catchy, succinct idea is a lot easier to repeat than a rambling, confused concept.
  • Second, expand on that one sentence with a single paragraph that builds interest by substantiating the concept and helping the listener envision what the show or movie would be like.
  • Third, for a proposed series, explain how the concept would play out, week by week, by describing several episodes.
  • Fourth, fill in the "big picture," such as by describing how the show would look on screen or by rounding out the main characters.

(You’ve probably noticed how this advice follows the classic AIDA model of getting attention, building interesting, increasing desire, and asking for a decision, which is what makes Principato’s advice valuable for just about any profession.) As a fresh take on presentation projects for your business communication class, have students "reverse engineer" a favorite TV program to craft a pitch, including the one-sentence grabber, the one-paragraph interest-builder, and the broader explanation of how the TV series would play out. Have individuals or teams pitch their program ideas to the rest of the class, who play the role of studio executives.

Limiting the scope of a presentation, whether it’s to fit the time limit a speaker has been given or simply to deliver a message as efficiently as possible, is a challenge for all speakers.

To give your students a fun way to practice this essential skill, consider assigning some pecha-kucha presentations. Pecha-kucha is a style of presentation that might be the ultimate in creative constraint: The speaker is limited to 20 image slides, each of which is displayed for exactly 20 seconds before automatically advancing.

PechaKucha Nights, which are open to the public, are now put on in cities all over the world. You can visit for more information on these events or to view some archived presentations.

Image credit: Richard Bussink

Anyone who has suffered through a barrage of bullet points in a tedious presentation is likely to welcome the more creative style of slide design advocated by presentation specialists such as Nancy Duarte and Garr Reynolds.

Structured versus Free-Form

The PowerPoint slides you can download from the link above show the difference between conventional, bullet point-intensive designs (which we refer to as structured slides) and the new, more visually oriented designs (which we refer to in our texts as free-form slides).

The two structured slides (Slides 1 and 2)  follow the same format throughout the presentation. In fact, they’re based directly on the templates built into PowerPoint, which tend to feature lots and lots of bullet points.

In contrast, the two free-form slides (Slides 3 and 4) don’t follow a rigid structure. Of course, free-form designs should not change randomly from one slide to the next. They should still be unified by design elements such as color and font selections.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Structured Slides

Although some commentators would like to banish structured slides to permanent oblivion in favor of free-form designs, both design strategies have advantages and disadvantages that need to be considered for each presentation opportunity.

Structured slides have the significant advantage of being easy to create; you simply choose an overall design scheme for the presentation, select a template for a new slide, and start typing. If you’re in a schedule crunch, going the structured route might save the day because at least you’ll have something ready to show.