Content Tips

Developing Content for a Zoom Presentation

Unlike a normal presentation, Zoom presentations work better when you give small amounts of content out at a time.  For example, in a PowerPoint animate the content so that you can show and discuss just one line at a time.

Zoom presentations need to be shorter and cover less material, but cover it more repetitively.

Writing a Presentation is like packing for a Trip

When you start to write a presentation, follow the same process you might when packing a suitcase.

Layout all of your clothes on the bed first.  You’ll probably choose things by the nature of where you’re going and what you’re going to be doing. Put the basic things you need in one pile then figure out how much space you have left and pack the rest. A common traveling mistake is packing too much.

When preparing a presentation first layout all of the things you have to say, given the audience and time constraints.  Think about your takeaway – that one thought you want people to remember when the speech is over.  Pack things that reinforce, underscore and demonstrate the takeaway. Put everything else back into the closet.

Don’t make the mistake of trying to write the speech from the opening through to the close until you know everything that has to go into the suitcase.

Enjoy your trip.

How to Write a Presentation

When it’s time to write a presentation, most people put together an outline which they immediately turn into a PowerPoint.  They rehearse it once or twice to themselves, and then think they’re good to go.

Writing a powerful presentation is like writing a good article. You write, then rewrite, then rewrite some more.  Professional writers rewrite their work a dozen times. Look to make it more condensed. Try to eliminate half the bullet points. Knock out the redundancies and overly glib lines. Just put the key points on the slides, not every word you’re going to say.

Be single focused.  Ask yourself what is the one thing you want everyone to remember and make sure it is in the open, middle and close.

Finally, have a friend listen to you present it.  Fix those parts where they either pass out or glaze over.

Work it, baby.

Stilted Language in Pitches

Sometimes on the TV news you’ll see a police officer being interviewed at a crime scene.  He’ll explain, “The gentleman walked into the bank and brandished a firearm which he subsequently used to make threats against the teller unless the gentleman was given all of the proceeds in the drawer.”  It’s so funny to use such formal language to describe a criminal low life who robbed a bank.

We often use formal language in business presentations, as well.  “Without further ado I’d like to present Joe James to you who will present the agenda points of today’s meeting.” Did it not occur to anyone to just say “Here’s what we want to cover today”? It’s not only a more economical way to speak, it’s clearer and shows much more confidence than that stilted way of speaking.

Start talking like you do to friends, without further ado.

Make Your Message a Benefit

When pitching your offering to a prospect, package your message so that they are solutions to making the client’s life easier.  We’re all interested in solving our own specific problems, so when you phrase things as solutions to the prospect’s problems, you’ll have rapt attention and ultimately robust business.

It’s never about you.  It’s always about the prospect.

Avoid Quotes in a Presentation

One of the more popular techniques in speaking is to quote a famous person.  “As Einstein said…blah, blah, blah.”

Avoid it if you can.  It often comes across as stiff and condescending, it might be slightly off of the target message you want to give and it’s always a diversion.  Instead, put the time in to think about what you wanted to communicate by using that quote and how you can say it better and more personally in your own words or with a story.

Go through your office and donate all of those Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations books you have to charity.

Short Stories Work Best in Presentations

Storytelling is a terrific way to communicate. When you start a presentation with a story it calms you down.  When you make a point with a story it can be dramatic and memorable.

Stories are also valuable in Zoom presentations because they pull the audience back into the screen. Stories are good. Long stories, with lots of side bars, back stories so long you need to take a bus; asides, explanations and other interruptions are bad.

Construct the story in a manner that allows it to flow easily.  If there are things that happened in the story that are extraneous to the reason you’re telling it, don’t mention it.  You don’t have to tell a story exactly the way it happened nor in the order the events occurred.

Practice telling the story among friends and relatives. Why should they be spared?  If you watch their faces as you tell the story, you’ll quickly learn where to edit.

Delivering Bad News

Sometimes in a presentation you need to deliver bad news. Perhaps the budget isn’t going to work, or some facet of the plan can’t happen, or a valued partner changed his mind.  When is the best time in the presentation to deliver bad news?

In the beginning.

Getting bad news out in some portion of your opening serves a number of purposes: It positions you as an honest person with nothing to hide. It allows the client to evaluate whatever you are presenting in light of this bad news.  It gives you a chance to use the news to build your case in the pitch.

Getting the bad news out early is the good news this week.

Non words

Many people think that the sign of a good speaker is someone who never uses verbal ticks like “ah” and “um”.   But, I disagree. The best way to judge a speaker’s impact is if that person conveys a sense of confidence.  Audiences are swayed when they believe the speaker is confident. We all have verbal ticks.  As long as you don’t have so many that the audience is counting you’re OK.

What really matters is that you look and sound like you believe in what you’re saying.  If a few ahs and ums slip in while you’re talking, don’t let it bother you.

Pauses Don’t Work in Zoom Presentations

I’m a big advocate of using pauses in a presentation.  But, in a Zoom meeting the pause sounds like a technical problem and people start to try to adjust their computer.

Stories Rule

I ran a refresher workshop recently with a group I led 2 years earlier. In my workshops everyone has to tell stories so I asked if anyone remembered the stories from last time (2 years ago). Without missing a beat one person stood up and recounted every story while others in the group filled in details.

People remember stories. They remember everything about stories. Storytelling helps you communicate better and is the easiest, least nerve-racking way to present.

Shorter Presentations are Better

“Be brief, be bright and be gone.”

Teresa A. Taylor, the COO at Qwest, gave this advice about making a presentation.

Some people think the more they talk, the more important they will be perceived.  Listen to Ms. Taylor.  The more compact your presentation, the more you will be seen as confident and your presentation as brilliant.  Get rid of jargon, stay focused on the one idea you want the audience to remember and support it with data and stories.

Write a Presentation on Paper, before Making a PowerPoint

When writing your presentation, don’t use or even think about PowerPoint.

Develop and write what you’re going to say first.  Identify the one thought you want the audience to take away and then determine how PowerPoint can add to the impact with stark graphics that bring a point to life and a few key words that reinforce your message. When you create a presentation in PowerPoint first, it gets very wordy and uses silly visuals that are gratuitous.

You may even find you don’t need PowerPoint at all.

Use Metaphors. It’s like Pressing the Easy Button

Recently, we had a water crisis in New England and our tap water was compromised causing complicated rules on water usage. But one official simplified things by using a metaphor when he advised people to  “think of your water supply right now as a lake. All the things you might do in a lake you can do with our water.” It quickly explained what we should and shouldn’t do with the water.

Although I did try to go fishing in my bathtub.

Empathy Works

An attorney is defending a union official accused of falsifying ballots. Addressing the jury, the attorney says the charges against her client are as prosperous as that of a nurse accused of doctoring medical records.

The analogy was well planned. There was a nurse on the jury; and, identifying with her worked. The official was found innocent.

Look for occasions to empathize with your audience.  It can keep you out of the slammer.

How Many Points in a Presentation?

Someone somewhere set in stone the notion that a good presentation should have at most 3 main points. Try this math instead.

A good presentation makes a single point.  That point is articulated in the very beginning. It is proved through facts and stories in the middle. It is summarized at the end.

If you do all of that and do it well, there’s a chance the audience will actually hear and remember it.  If you try to convey more than that one point, they won’t hear anything.

One point. One.

This advice is especially useful if you are making a Zoom presentation.  Getting and holding the audience’s focus is difficult.  It’s better to make one point repetitively than to try to cover lots of material.

Don’t Engage the Audience Too Quickly

Some speakers like to start their presentation by asking the audience a question or in some other way involving them in a two-way conversation.  Have you ever noticed how awkward that technique can be?  The audience isn’t ready to participate. They want to gauge you and get their bearings on the topic.

It’s OK to get involved with the audience, just not at the very beginning. That’s the time when you need to demonstrate you are the most confident speaker in the universe.

What to Do When They Cut Your Time

When you learn at the last moment that the allotted time for your presentation has been cut, here are some suggestions of what to do:

-Cut chunks of the presentation out, or cut out an entire section. Don’t take a little from each section.

-Put even more emphasis on your open and close, which may now constitute the bulk of the pitch. Do not touch the open and close. Leave it just as you planned it.

 -Don’t complain at the presentation that your time was cut.

-Finally, and most importantly, don’t rush through the presentation. You worked hard to prepare.  Present at a normal pace with confidence.

Take your time and make a great presentation.

Focus Your Presentation

Every sentence, story, aside, example, metaphor and analogy must support the single takeaway you want the audience to get.

Remove everything else. Be ruthless.

Cover less material.

One of the sins that many speakers commit is that they try to cover too much material for the time slot they have. By all means, use the time given to discuss your topic, but instead of drilling deep into the details, emphasize a single point.  Sell it with stories, examples, demonstrations and passion. Find other angles to come at the point. Invite audience participation. This is a Golden Rule is presenting on Zoom.

 When to Rehearse

Don’t rehearse until you have the content locked down.

Trying to do both at once hurts each.  Then have at least two rehearsals, the last being a dress rehearsal (no stopping, no comments).

If possible, the best time to rehearse is in the morning when everyone is fresh.

Rhetorical Questions Add Emphasis

Instead of saying “You’ve put a lot of time into this project, spend a little more cash to get the best contractor,”  ask it as a rhetorical question:

“Given how much time you put into this project, don’t you think you should spend a little more cash for the best contractor?”

Way stronger.

Make Cliches Work

Clichés can be very helpful in bringing more color to your presentation.

“Don’t put all your eggs in one basket” might be good advice when discussing allocations. Be sure the cliché’s meaning is obvious. Telling someone to “push the envelope” without a tangible example is vague.

Keep On Editing

Most presentations run too long, and, dive too deep into the weeds.  Always edit edit, edit.

In my opinion….

Avoid qualifying language in a pitch or presentation. 

When asked a question don’t respond with “To tell you the truth,”  or “Candidly”  or “To be honest” and the ever popular “In my opinion”.

A direct response is perceived as much more truthful, candid and frank…in my opinion.

Make Your Data Dynamic!!!

Data, statistics and other computational information take on a powerful role in a presentation when designed creatively. 

Get rid of the standard graphs and charts and look at ways of showing data that will build your case.

Check out, Best American Graphics

Using Notes in a Presentation

The more you read from notes, the less you connect with your audience.

This is true even if you are doing an on-line presentation and the client can’t see you.They can see if your eyes are on the lens or on the screen.

How Long Should a Presentation Run?

In the book, Talk Like TED: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds, research indicates that 18 minutes is long enough to be serious and short enough to hold people’s attention.

If you are making a Zoom presentation. Cut all of that by half.

Be a Better Storyteller

The #1 crime of most storytellers is a heavy handed reliance of chronology. “Then we did this and then that happened, and then the phone rang and then the cat jumped on the table.”  It sounds like they are reading an instruction manual instead of telling a story.

Great storytellers don’t worry about the precise order. They only worry about the impact on the audience. And, if they do tell something out of order, only they know.

Part of the assignment in telling a story is to be entertaining, so don’t get too hung up in whether or not the story is 100% accurate.  It’s there to make a point, not to offer expert testimony.

How to Give a Presentation Without Note Cards


It’s called chunking.  When we arrange information into groups, it’s easier to remember. That’s why a phone number is chunked into sections instead of one long 10 digest number.

Arrange the content of your presentation into 3 or 4 sections.  It will be a lot easier to remember, and easier for the audience to digest.

If you need help call me.

Analogies Paint Word Pictures

In an interview recently, Joel Osteen said that “a good analogy makes the rest of your presentation easy, almost writes itself.”  Mr. Osteen is a TV minister who has turned analogies into an art form.

Although the center of his sermons are fairly repetitive, the openings often start with an analogy, like the time he was shopping in the supermarket and noticed an aisle that sells damaged canned food for 50% off.  The food inside the can is fine, but the label is torn or the can dented.  He then likened that to people who have had a tough time and are a bit beaten up by life, maybe not wearing the best clothes, but inside….

You can see how such an analogy becomes the structure for a  whole presentation.  Analogies paint word pictures for the audience that they can quickly grasp. You don’t need an art department or clip art to use them.

No “buts” in Your Presentation

If you have something exciting to say in a presentation, don’t follow it up immediately with “but”, it flips the emphasis from the good news to the bad. Don’t use “buts” in your content.

For example, don’t say “The new program offers real opportunities, but the ordering system is more complicated.”

A better way is to separate the two thoughts and drop the but. “The new program offers real opportunities, (pause) and a few challenges with the ordering system.” In this way you don’t yank the rug out from the good news.

Avoiding “buts” also allows you to appear more positive, body language-wise.

Beware of Free-Floating Stories

There is a reason you are telling the audience a particular story. Let the audience in on that reason (e.g., how to drive value, resiliency, learning from mistakes, etc.)

Show, Don’t Tell

When senior people are interviewing for a new job, demonstrate leadership, not credentials.  The reason you are being interviewed is because of your resume, now show what you can do with it.