Folks, I can design the heck out of a presentation deck. I’ve been creating fun and engaging slide decks for years! However, with the buzzword du jour being “growth mindset,” I’m willing to acknowledge that there’s always more to learn, and I like to think I’m humble enough to recognize mastery in others. (Humility is just one of my many amazing qualities.)

When I heard that Kenny Nguyen of ThreeSixtyEight/Big Fish Presentations would be speaking to a local Ad Club luncheon about “How to Turn Presentations into Experiences,” I knew I had to check it out. Big Fish deals exclusively with presentation deck creation and presentation coaching, so I made sure to show up with pen and notebook in hand. And it turns out… when someone like Kenny is speaking, there’s a lot more to learn.

And hot damn, was it ever a master class in presenting with intent, humor, and swagger. My favorite moment was when Kenny’s preview slide promised “The Best Slides You’ve Ever Seen…” and then delivered the absolute ugliest bio slide I’ve ever seen: a huge block of Comic Sans with a Papyrus header on retro-computer screen blue, topped off with a bad glamour portrait of Kenny himself. As one of the few graphic designers present, I caught the cues and immediately cackled at the deliberate design sins. (Not pictured, because we’ll never host anything like that at Tight Ship. We’re a classy operation.)

Seriously, this is all you’re gonna see.

The fun didn’t stop there, though. Kenny then took us on a participatory journey, asking for volunteer topics so we could develop an ad hoc presentation together. A passing police car siren prompted someone to shout “CRIME!” but Kenny, ever the sunshiny diplomat, turned the topic to donuts instead. 😂 He white-boarded our ideas, and within five minutes we had generated a mind map of an effective, basic presentation: “Why Donuts?” (Spoiler: because they’re amazing.)

Here’s what stood out the most for me in this golden lecture, and what I hope is the most usable for you, dear reader:

The opener of your talk “calibrates the room.”

The first two minutes can decide how the rest of your set will land, so put in effort here! Use a good joke or video to warm up the crowd.

Body language counts.

“We instinctively know as human beings what makes great body language: eye contact, open posture, fluidity, and hand gestures.” Oh, and don’t walk on stage already smiling; it comes off as plastic. Instead, enter with a neutral expression, regard the crowd and then smile, giving your audience the positive feedback that they’re making you happy.

Your presentation MUST have a point.

Are you conveying a Big Idea? A call to action? Both? If not, why are you even there? More to the point, why are you asking other people to be there? You need a purpose up on that stage; be clear on it.

Your statistics are boring.

Make your content relatable. FIND A WAY. Numbers, even pretty ones, mean nothing without context. Put it in real terms, share real impact, wrap a story around it, do SOMETHING that will make THIS audience connect and care.

Wondering if a text-heavy slide is pulling its weight?

Apply the “tweetability test.” If the line isn’t vital and pithy enough to be tweetable, maybe it doesn’t need to be displayed.

Recommended presentation tools for non-designers?

OK, sure, so I want to be the one to design your slide decks, but that’s not always an option. What do you do when professional design is out of reach and you have to build the thing yourself? Turn to Haiku Deck for deck layouts, Canva for graphics creation, and Piktochart for infographics.

How to get in the zone before going on stage:

Try listening to fist-pumping music or a favorite stand-up comedy routine like Kenny does, or do like Leno: a dry run to an empty room.

Most common presentation mistake? Under-rehearsal.

Audiences always remember the presenter more than the presentation, so you should be putting as much work into perfecting your performance as you are into your polishing your deck.

Rehearse, rehearse, and rehearse again.

Then record yourself, review it, and rehearse again, on repeat. Yes, even if you hate it: especially if you hate it, and until you don’t hate it. “Find a way to give a presentation you would want to sit through yourself.”

I’m going to immediately start applying these lessons (and more*) to the work I do for my presentation clients. So if you catch me handing over even one untweetable slide, call me out. My humble ass can take it.

Go to the source!

*Kenny knows way more about this than I could ever sum up here, but luckily he’s already done that in his book, The Big Fish Experience, and on stage (with partner Gus Murillo) for Google. Want to dive deeper and learn how the most effective presentations are built and delivered? Give Kenny’s book a good read. You’ll be glad you did.

Oh, and what’s the second most common presentation mistake Kenny sees? “Talking too much. Not knowing when to shut up.”

That’s my cue. Enjoy the wine and tip your servers. I’ll show myself out.