Can we break presentation genius down into smaller components?

Who do you suppose are the speakers who display some Presentation Genius? And what do they have in common?

[jcolumns] Well, there are the obvious ones that everyone trots out – Steve Jobs, for example. And they’re right – there are moments of pure genius in the presentations he delivered. (And some bad things as well, don’t forget!). People tell me that ex-President Bill Clinton is great on stage. And if you’re a fan of the internet, you can trawl your way through the TED website. There’s a wide spectrum of material there, from the “okay” to the pure and absolute genius. And no, I’m not going to list them.
[jcol/] But let’s take a moment to think about the ‘normal’ people. After all, it’s all well and good to say that these people display Presentation Genius but they have staff, and time to rehearse, and money to pay for resources and images, don’t they!? Well some of them do, certainly, but not all – and in my experience not as many as you might think. But having a big team and lots of resources doesn’t help if you’ve got no talent or the wrong mindset…. and plenty of my fellow professionals create outstanding presentations with practically no resources.

So what is it that makes the difference? What allows this presentation genius to show itself?


No one can give a great presentation the first time. Trust me on this: no one.  The amount a presentation improves gets less the more you give it, so the benefit of the tenth time a presentation goes live compared to the ninth is less than the third compared to the second, but it will certainly get better each time. Even if you only give your presentation twice, the second time will be better than the first. And if you’re never going to repeat your presentation you can at least practice, can’t you?! (Hint: the correct answer is “Yes, Simon”.)

But when you practice, don’t just go through the motions and fool yourself you’ve done it properly. That’s about as useful as going to the gym and not working hard enough. I’ve seen people on exercise machines reading books and not breaking sweat – what’s the point… nothing is changing!


Yes, talent helps. It’s not the be-all and end-all like people try and pretend, but it helps. Why do people pretend talent is everything? Because it absolves them of the responsibility and effort needed to work hard and practice. My advice is to man up and put the hours in 😉

I can, in all honesty, put my hand on my heart and say I’ve never worked with someone who was so talentless that I couldn’t make their presentations better. Almost everyone has been lots better, in fact!


The two big attitude problems I’ve noticed are

  • thinking small vs thinking big (that is, thinking damage limitation vs thinking for success); and
  • presenting for the information/presenter vs presenting for the audience.

I’ve already blogged about the former, but the latter is pretty simple and can be summed up in this presentation genius mantra: presentations shouldn’t be about telling people what you know – they should be about telling people what they need to know in the way they need to know them!  When you make that mind shift things really can take off!


Before you start working on your presentation ask yourself (with brutal honesty) if your message justifies a presentation. Presentations are hard work and they’re expensive (people’s time isn’t free!). If you can pass the message on a different, cheaper way, why wouldn’t you!  it’s all about value for money, not strokes for your ego!

And while I’m at it, ask yourself if you believe in the message – really believe it. If you don’t, your audience will sense that and things will only go from bad to worse!

[jbox vgradient=”#d8d8d8|#ffffff” shadow=”7″ jbox_css=”border:4px solid #9d9d9d;” title=”By the way…”]As a scientist I strongly suggest you check your facts before you start. A lot of things “everyone knows” are absolute tosh, and if your message contains such tosh I’ll come around your house with a baseball bat! :)[/jbox]


Do you care? Do you want your presentation to change the world? Great. If not, what are you doing on the stage!? 😉   (Because your boss told you to or because it’s expected of you isn’t going to cut it, I’m afraid!). You don’t have to be passionate about your job, your boss or your audience… or the bigger picture of what’s going on at work… but it really helps if you care about the one thing you’re talking about.

Not to the point of fanaticism, of course. That way lies madness. 😉

So there you have it – my starting point for Presentation Genius. What say you?

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