Say It With Style

Your mother may have told you, “It’s not what you say; it’s how you say it,” but when you’re a budding entrepreneur, your business hinges on what you say — how you say it can serve to enhance it or bore your listener to tears.
Of the many lessons learned by Mayor Kathy Taylor’s Tulsa Entrepreneurial Spirit Award (sponsored by SpiritBank and in a strategic partnership with Tulsa Business Journal) participants throughout the contest’s process, the art of the pitch is one of the most important, because it is the primary means of securing financial assistance. And as they learn the pitch, participants also receive a lesson in mastering the presentation.
Through the competition’s three rounds, participants who advance must present a seven-minute pitch, five-minute pitch and two-minute pitch to their judges. Participants use PowerPoint or Keynote slides to present additional information alongside their pitches, but sometimes understanding how best to utilize the slides is as difficult as honing the pitch.
Sean Griffin, Spirit Award chair, told participants at the last coaching session, “Your PowerPoint slides are not your presentation; you are your presentation.”
He directed participants to Nancy Duarte of Duarte Design for examples of powerful, effective presentations.
Duarte has created visual presentations for the likes of Apple, Google, Cisco, HP and Al Gore.
Using suggestions offered on her Web log, blog.duarte.com, and advice from Brad Vernon, a local technologist who works closely with Griffin in developing his visual presentations, the following tips are offered for presenting smart, strategic PowerPoint presentations.
1. Less is more. Vernon advises having no more than seven bullet points in a presentation and no more than seven words per slide. Don’t list bullet points on a slide. Limit each slide to one idea and convey it as concisely as possible.
2. Show, don’t tell. Rather than words, use visual images to project your ideas. “If you can express an idea with a picture, that’s better than words,” Vernon said. On Duarte’s blog, Doug Neff advises having appropriate rights to the images you use. If an image is copyrighted, get permission before using it.
3. Don’t read your slides. “The worst thing anyone can do is sit there and read your slides,” Vernon said. He also said if you put a lot of information on your slides, your audience will read them rather than listen to what you have to say. Keep the words on your slides to a minimum and ensure that the audience’s focus is on you.
4. Use color and font wisely. Keep your background simple, but make sure it stands out among other presentations. Use solid colors and steer clear of white. Keep your fonts simple and easy to read.
5. Don’t be dull. “Because people are so used to boring presentations, anything you can do to be different makes people want to pay attention more,” Vernon said.
6. Learn from others. Watch other people’s presentations and learn from them. Take note of what they did well, what worked and what didn’t. Peruse sites like Ignite.oreilly.com, www.TED.com, www.techcrunch50.com and demo.com. “Because you have all these resources, look at them. Pay attention to what they’re saying and how they’re presenting it,” Vernon said. “You’re not stealing from them; you’re learning from someone who’s spent more time or has more experience doing that.”
In the end, Vernon said, it’s important to remember your presentation is meant to enhance your pitch, not replace it.
“Focus on what you’re saying versus what is on your slide,” he said. “A PowerPoint is not a crutch. It’s a tool. It’s supposed to enhance what you say, not be the reason for your presentation. You should be able to give your entire pitch without a presentation. If you can do that, then your presentation only adds to it. If you meet someone at a party, you only have two and a half minutes to tell them about your business. If you can hook them in that time, you’re in. Your presentation only makes your pitch better.”
This week, Spirit Award contestants will undergo yet another round of pitch presentations before judges decide who will continue to the next level.
Presentations are Sept. 17, and on Sept. 20, judges will select and notify the seven finalists. Those seven will participate in a coaching session on Sept. 30, resubmit their updated business plans and give their final presentations on Nov. 5. On Nov. 9, Tulsa Business Journal will print a special issue dedicated to the Spirit Award and its final three winners, and on Nov. 17, those winners will be celebrated at a special ceremony during Global Entrepreneurship Week. ?



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