Archives for January 2014

How to Present to a Tyrant

So you think you have a tough boss?  Consider the poor Amazon engineer that gave a presentation to CEO Jeff Bezos only to have him say, “Why are you wasting my life?”

Bezos is notoriously difficult in meetings, according to “The Everything Store, Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon,” a fascinating new book by Brad Stone.

According to Stone, Bezos berates employees with “Jeffisms” like  “Are you lazy or just incompetent?” and “Do I need to go down and get the certificate that says I’m CEO of the company to get you to stop challenging me on this?”

Most of us must meet with tough bosses occasionally. Here are some rules for presenting to tyrants and other senior executives.

 Rule #1: Know Your Listener.

I know a group of engineers that prepared a presentation to the CEO on a new technology that would allow the company to charge customers more money. They were stunned when the CEO rejected their plan.

It turned out that the CEO wasn’t focused on generating revenue. At the time, 2008, he was focused on cutting costs.

Three months later the engineers returned to the CEO with a presentation focusing on how the same technology would reduce costs. By understanding their listener, they were able to win approval.

Rule #2: Keep it short and limit your slides.

Top executives hear tons of presentations and are time strapped. So get to the point and prepare for a conversation rather than deliver a typical “presentation.”

Steve Yegge, an Amazon engineer, pointed out in a Google + post that Bezos spends an inordinate amount of time hearing presentations. Says Yegge, “He doesn’t have to do anything at all except dress himself in the morning and read presentations all day long…You have to tear out whole paragraphs or even pages to keep it interesting for him.”

Less is more with top execs.

Similarly, Steve Jobs, the late Apple CEO and another tough customer, hated slides. Rather, he preferred discussions.

“People would confront a problem by creating a presentation,” Jobs told biographer Walter Isaacson for the best seller “Steve Jobs.” ”I wanted them to engage, to hash things out at the table, rather than show a bunch of slides. People who know what they’re talking about don’t need PowerPoint.”

Keep it tight. State the challenge. Propose a solution. Discuss.

 Rule #3: Prepare for Questions.

I know a top sales executive who was preparing to meet with the CEO of one of the Atlanta’s largest companies.  He didn’t even bother creating a presentation. Rather he spent two weeks brainstorming all the questions that he might expect during the meeting.

We urge our clients to send out an email to everyone that knows your CEO and ask for a list of questions to expect.

Then practice those questions.

Q&A is never credibility neutral. Good answers build credibility. Lousy answers destroy it.

 Rule #4: If you don’t know, admit it.

Bezos is famous for blindsiding employees with unexpected questions. Yegge, the Amazon engineer, described in his Google + post how he fully expected to be caught off guard by Bezos.

His presentation addressed skills needed by a generalist engineer. During the presentation, Bezos asked “Why aren’t data mining and machine learning on this list?”

Yegge said he laughed and said, “Yup, you got me. I don’t know why it’s not in there. It should be. I’m a dork. I’ll add it.”  Yegge said Bezos laughed and “everything was great.”

At times, admitting ignorance can calm your tyrant.

About the Author:

Joey Asher is president of Speechworks, a selling and communication skills coaching company in Atlanta. His new book 15 Minutes Including Q&A: A Plan to Save the World from Lousy Presentations is available now. For more information about Speechworks, visit

‘Active’ Pauses Help Manage Speaking Anxiety

I was working with an extremely nervous presenter in one of our recent Mastering Your Presentations workshops. She described her presentation experience like this: “My head races and swirls, and then it switches back on itself. I know that words are coming out of my mouth, but I don’t have any control over them. I must sound like an idiot.”

We hear that sort of thing a lot. This presenter is not alone.

The path forward for this presenter was clear. There would be no improvement if we couldn’t find a way for her to manage her nerves. Notice that I write “manage” and not “eliminate.” There’s little I can do or say to a nervous person that will eliminate their nerves. The root cause of the nervousness and the psychological and physiological responses people have is too deeply ingrained in who they are.

What I can do is help them manage the nervousness so that it can be worked through. Over time, their ability to work through their nervousness will lessen its effect on them.

So, back to our workshop participant. Let’s call her Beth. Beth is a smart, articulate analyst. I noticed before the class started as she bantered with the other attendees that she was funny and charming.

But once she got up in front of the class during the first exercise, she crumbled inside. “I feel so dumb,” she said.

The other class participants came to her rescue. “No, you’re not dumb. Not at all. What you said made perfect sense.”

Beth replied, “But that’s the problem. I don’t know what I said.”

I stepped in. “Beth, your brain is a good one. You wouldn’t be in your current role if you weren’t smart. When you’re in a low-stakes conversation with someone at work, do you feel in control of your thoughts?”

She answered that she did.

“So what we need to figure out is what you can do when you’re under pressure that will help you gain control so that you’re as comfortable as you are in regular low-stakes conversations. We’re going to start with a pausing exercise.”

I instructed that when I raise my hand, she is to pause.

She started talking about a current project she was working on. I raised my hand. She did what many people do, she froze.

“Let’s stop,” I said. I went on to explain that a pause shouldn’t be like hitting the pause button on a DVR. “This is an active pause. You should breathe and think. Gather your thoughts. When you’re ready, you can begin speaking again.”

She tried it, and eventually she settled into the conversation. Her personality started to peek through and her description of the project was clear.

“Were you in control of your thoughts?” I asked.

“Yes. That was amazing,” she said.

Everyone in the class agreed. The transformation, in such a brief period of time, was amazing.

In the battle between nervousness and an active pause, the active pause won.

“Here’s the deal,” I said. “You’ve experienced what it’s like to pause, breathe, and gather your thoughts before moving on. Now you need to remember to do it when nervousness sets in and the stakes are high. That will require a new level of self-awareness and engagement.”

About the Author:

Greg Owen-Boger is vice president of Turpin Communication, a presentations skills consulting company based in Chicago, and co-author of the book, The Orderly Conversation: Business Presentations Redefined. For more information about the company or  book, visit

Tired of Bar Graphs? Compare Values by Using Proportional Shapes

Last year I created an online tool to calculate the sizes of two shapes based on values that you input. This allows you to create a diagram with two proportional shapes (see below). I wrote about this calculator in an issue of my newsletter and gave examples of the background and other links about this type of diagram.

At the 2013 Presentation Summit, fellow PowerPoint MVP Glenna Shaw of suggested that what I had created was good, but needed to go further.

Glenna had written about the online tool in blog posts for Microsoft (see my newsletter above for links), but she wanted it to do more. She wanted the tool to calculate the sizes of more than two shapes. This would allow it to be used when you have more than two values to compare visually. She also wanted it to be more generic, so the sizes could apply to any shape or image, not just squares, rectangles, and circles.

Of course her ideas made perfect sense. So I went to work in my hotel room that day and created a new tool, the Proportional Object Collection Calculator. It allows you to create slides like this:

This example of a proportional object collection shows one of the shapes only partially on the slide. When one of the values is much larger than the rest of the values, this approach can work well because it allows the shapes for the smaller values to be more easily seen on the slide. The audience still understands the magnitude of the large shape because more than half of it is on the slide.

To use the calculator, enter the height and width of the largest object you want to create (in inches or centimeters). Then you enter the values you want to represent with proportional objects. Enter the values in order from largest to smallest.

In the Results section, you will see exact measurements for each object. Use the entry fields in the Size group for the object to enter the height and width shown in the Results table.

I have found it easiest to copy the results table of object sizes onto my slide so it is easy to see when entering the sizes for each shape or image. You can make the table smaller if it is taking up too much room, and move it to one of the top corners of the slide so it is out of the way of where you are placing the objects.

When you’re done, you can delete the table or move it to the Notes section of the slide if you need to keep the dimensions of the objects.

Instead of a column or bar graph, consider using a proportional object collection in your next presentation. It tells the story of the numbers visually in a way the audience will understand and remember.

About the Author:

Dave Paradi runs the Think Outside the Slide website, is a consultant on high-stakes presentations, the author of seven books and a PowerPoint Most Valuable Professional (MVP.) For more information, visit

Tabs Provide Roadmap for Long PowerPoint Presentations

When you deliver a long presentation with lots of topics, you can help your audience understand and remember more by explicitly displaying the presentation’s organization.  A training session comes to mind as an example. People also like to know where they are in a presentation. A visual list of topics helps them relate each topic to the totality of the presentation.

One way to do this is with a tabbed presentation. It looks somewhat like links at the top of a website. Here’s a simple example of a first slide.


I prefer to keep the tabs simple so that they don’t distract from the main content, but you can format them any way you want.

Here’s how I created the tabs:

  1. Go to View, Slide Master.
  2. In the left-hand pane, scroll up to the top, larger thumbnail. Whatever you place on this master will appear on every slide, no matter which layout it uses.
  3. Draw the tabs. You could put them at the bottom instead. I used the Round Same Side Corner shape in the Rectangles section. You can drag the yellow square or diamond to adjust the size of the rounded corner. You’ll have to fiddle with the size and placement to fit the desired number of tabs across the slide. You can see that I made the Home tab smaller than the others; I did this because I needed more space for the topic names — and wanted to emphasize them as well. You’ll probably also have to adjust the placement of some of the text placeholders to make room for the tabs.
  4. Click the Normal View icon at the bottom of the screen to return to Normal view and create all of your slides. You can create a “topic” slide at the beginning of each topic, but it isn’t necessary.  The Section layout is good for this, but you can also use the Title Slide layout or any other layout that works for you.
  5. Return to the Slide Master. You can now add hyperlinks to each of the sections and they will work on
    every slide.
  6. Select the first tab, being sure to click the tab’s outline (border), not the text inside it. You want the hyperlink to work if you click anywhere on the tab and you probably don’t want the text to be underlined and change to the hyperlink theme color.powerpoint-tips-tabbed-presentation-with-topics-2
  7. Press Ctrl + K or go to the Insert tab and click Hyperlink in the Links group.  (You’ll do this in the Slide Master.)
  8. In the Link To pane of the Insert Hyperlink dialog box, choose Place in This Document.
  9. In the larger pane, choose the desired slide. For the Home tab, you would choose the first slide of the presentation. For subsequent tabs, you would choose the first slide of the corresponding topic.
  10. Click OK to create the hyperlink and close the dialog box.
  11. Add hyperlinks to the rest of the tabs.
  12. Exit the Slide Master to return to Normal view.
  13. Test all of your hyperlinks!

It’s possible to create the tabs on your slides in Normal view. You can create one set, add the hyperlinks, and copy them to the rest of the slides. The hyperlinks will follow. This method has 2 problems that I can think of:

  • It makes the presentation file larger (but probably not by too much)
  • If you want to reformat the look of the tabs, you have to do so on every slide, instead of once on the Slide Master.

This method has one advantage. If you want, you can format the current tab differently. For example, during Topic 2, the Topic 2 tab can have a darker fill and white text. But you’ll need to individually change the formatting on every slide of the presentation.

It’s possible to create a separate master for each section and format your tabs differently in each master. Then you would apply a different master to each topic.

Delivering a Tabbed Presentation

You can go through the presentation as usual, if you want. You don’t even have to use the tabs! But if someone asks a question about an earlier topic, you can easily go back to it by clicking the topic’s tab. In some situations, you might also let your audience choose the topics they want to hear and in which order. I called this a menu-based presentation.

Download the presentation!

I have a page of free PowerPoint backgrounds. Click here to go to the page and download the tabbed presentation.

About the Author:

Ellen Finkelstein is a noted presentation design consultant and trainer, a Microsoft PowerPoint MVP and author of a number of top-selling books in the presentations field. For more information, visit

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