Try Giving Your Next Presentation “Naked.”

Everybody has a dream. Mine is that more people will present naked.  And why not? Presenting naked takes less preparation and, if done right, blows the audience away.

“Presenting naked” is stripping away the trappings and “layers of clothing” that presenters use to hide their insecurities.  No PowerPoint. No lectern.  No notes.  Take a flip chart if you want. But nothing else.

You walk out in front of your audience — fully clothed. Stop. Wait for quiet. Then you passionately lay out a stripped-down message. The bare simplicity, relevant stories, and energy blow away audiences because most speeches are so dry and complicated.

Easier said than done?  Not really.  It only takes guts and a little know-how.  Presenting naked is easy if you know how to create a listener-focused presentation, how to rehearse, how to leave room for questions, and how to speak with passion.

How to Create Your “Naked” Presentation

Most presentations stink because they fail to focus on the audience’s true needs and interests. We’ve all sat through horrifyingly bad business presentations.  The worst I can remember was when I was a utility lawyer attending a meeting with about 50 utility executives in Birmingham, Alabama.  We were there to hear a three-hour presentation on anti-trust law by a lawyer from another firm. It was horrible.  He cited dozens of cases and delved into all sorts of economic theory that may have appealed to anti-trust lawyers and professors but had no appeal to utility executives.

I could hear the Blackberry’s clicking under the tables. No one was listening because the presenter didn’t focus on what the audience really wanted or needed to know – how to avoid jail.

How to Focus a Message

Naked presentations focus like a laser on audience interests.  Here’s how to quickly focus a message. On a blank sheet of paper, write down the three most important questions that your audience needs answered. Choose your questions carefully because they are the heart of your naked presentation.  Simplify your questions as much as possible.

If you’re delivering an anti-trust presentation to utility executives, you might focus on these questions:

  • What can you say to your competition?

  • What can you do to your competition?

  • And can you say in internal e-mails about your competition?

Determine the answers to your questions

Fill out your presentation by answering the questions and telling stories to illustrate your answers.

Here’s how it might sound.

I’m here to talk about anti-trust issues in the utility business. And I’m going to talk about three things:

  • What can you say to your competition?

  • What can you do to your competition?

  • And what can you say in internal e-mails about your competition?

Let’s talk about the first issue. What can you say to your competition? 

Then write on the flip-chart two or three things that you can and can’t say to your competition.  Tell stories illustrating your point. Move on to point two.  After point three, recap the core ideas.  Leaving time for questions, you shouldn’t speak for more than 20-30 minutes.

Applying the Model to Sales Presentations

While this model won’t necessarily work for everything, it can be far better than most presentations.  How about a sales pitch? I worked with a senior vice president of sales for a large distributor of airplane parts. He had a meeting to pitch an airline on the idea of outsourcing the airline’s parts-management process to his company.  The natural tendency for many sellers is to begin the presentation with a description of the company and the service offering.  Usually those presentations are deadly boring.  

In helping him with his presentation, I asked, “What are the three simple questions that your prospect would most likely ask?”

My client thought for a moment then came up with three questions his client would have.

  • Why can you do this better than us?
  • How can this save us money?
  • How can this generate more revenue for us?

“That’s your presentation,” I said. “Just tell him that you’re going to give a presentation about how you can make his company more competitive. Then outline the three questions and answer them, telling stories about how you’ve done the same for other airlines.”

That’s what he did and he blew them away.

That’s what a great “naked presentation” does. It gives what the audience wants, nothing more. Strip it down. Tell stories. Take questions.   Dump the theoretical crap. Dump the company history.  No one cares.

Leave Plenty of time for Audience Q&A

Too many presenters leave just a few minutes at the end of their presentation for questions.  In fact, many of my clients have confessed that they limit the time for questions because they’re afraid of being stumped, embarrassed by a question, or losing control of the presentation. 

But naked presenters understand that the goal isn’t to control the audience but to help them. Questions aren’t to be feared. They’re to be embraced.  There’s no better way to connect with an audience than to allow them free rein to ask as many questions as they want.   A good “naked presentation” allows at least half of the allotted time for questions. 

Jack Welch, one of corporate America’s best communicators, sometimes will go further than that.  Sometimes he will speak at executive roundtables and deliver what I consider the ultimate “naked presentation.”  Rather than delivering a speech, he will walk into the conference room, sit down at the front and say, “So what do you want to know?” And he fields questions for the entire period. 

He gets raves for his “naked” approach.

Rehearse and Deliver with Energy

“Naked presenters” also know they must do more than inform; they must sell ideas.  That means speaking with passion. And that means rehearsing out loud.  Rehearse until you can deliver like you’re having an animated dinner conversation with a close friend. Practice strong eye contact. Record yourself and make sure that you sound excited, like you’ve just discovered something wonderful.

Naked presenting is simple and authentic. It’s just you, chatting passionately without props and telling stories about the stuff that matters most to your listeners. 

Maybe someday everyone will present naked. That’s my dream.

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Survey Details PowerPoint Pet Peeves

I ran across an interesting study of what bothers people the most about PowerPoint.   In the online survey, people were asked to list the top three things that irked them most when watching a PowerPoint presentation.   Almost 700 people responded. Here is what they said.

  • The speaker read the slides to us – 62 %
  • Text so small I couldn’t read it – 47 %
  • Slides hard to see because of color choice – 43 %
  • Full sentences instead of bullet points — 39 %
  • Moving/flying text or graphics — 25%
  • Overly complex diagrams or charts — 22%
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A Flip Chart Idea to Nail Your Next Presentation

Here’s an easy way to give a speech that your audience will love. 

Start with a blank flip chart. Walk before your audience and say the following. “In preparing for my speech today, I thought about what are the three questions that you would want me to answer.” State the three questions and write them down on the flip chart.

Then say, “Let me answer the first question.”  Then answer the question, making sure that you use a story to illustrate your answer. And make sure you speak with the kind of energy you would have during an animated dinner conversation with a friend. Be excited and let the passion show.

Once you’ve answered all three questions, recap the main ideas in less than 15 seconds. Stop.

I came up with this simple approach for the President of a local manufacturing firm who asked for help on a presentation to his sales force. “But I don’t want to use PowerPoint,” he told me. “I’m more of a flip chart kind of guy. And I want to just keep it simple.”

He had just been appointed as the new president and needed to introduce himself to his team.  In preparing for the presentation, he sent out an email asking the sellers to submit questions they’d like for him to answer during his presentation.  He used those questions as the basis for coming up with the three questions he would focus on during the speech.

Like any good speaker, he spent a lot of time practicing the presentation.

He nailed it and the speech was a big hit.

Great speeches don’t need to be fancy. But they do need to be simple, focused on listener issues, and contain a few stories.  Do those things, rehearse, and your audience will love you.

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Seven Keys to Using Flip Charts Well

One way to add impact to your next presentation is to dump PowerPoint and use a Flip-Chart. Flip-Charts allow for spontaneity, letting you to draw pictures that illustrate ideas on the fly.  They also require that you simplify your ideas, which is always a good thing in a presentation.


A great example of how to use a flip-chart is actually the UPS Whiteboard Guy, the star of those cool UPS Whiteboard advertisements.  While UPS Whiteboard Guy uses a whiteboard and not a flip-chart, it’s the same idea.  He starts with a few drawings and then fills in the rest of the diagram as he tells a story.  The effect is to keep the audience engaged as they follow the visual story. That’s exactly what the best flip-charters do.


Seven Keys to Using Flip-Charts Well


  1. Create your flip-charts in advance.  Don’t expect to be able to write cleanly and clearly on the spot.
  2. If you use drawings, do the drawings up to a point. Draw the rest of the charts in light pencil so that you can use the lines as a guide when you’re live.
  3. Leave blank pages between prepared sheets. This allows you to add ideas as you go. Similarly, leave room for more ideas at the bottom of each page.
  4. Have a conclusion page to summarize ideas.
  5. Write big. Letters and numbers should be at least three inches high.
  6. Hand out a summary of all notes made on flip-charts.
  7. Practice your presentation using your flip-charts. 
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The “Tribble” with PowerPoint: It can Ruin a Speech

If you’re not careful (and far too many people aren’t) PowerPoint can scuttle your presentation in the same way that tribbles almost scuttled the Starship Enterprise.


For those of you who are not Trekkies, “The Trouble with Tribbles” was an episode of the original television show “Star Trek.” In the episode, Lt. Uhura brought back to the ship a cute little furry creature known as a “tribble”. The tribbles were cute, about the size of a guinea pig. They would coo in a very endearing way when you would pet them. They were very lovable.


The trouble with tribbles was that they reproduced at a rate that took over the ship, making it hard to move and threatening the safety of the passengers.  The episode ended when Scotty, the engineer, saved the day by beaming them aboard the enemy Klingon vessel.


PowerPoint slides are like tribbles.  A few of them are fine. The problem is that many presenters tend to become so enchanted with them, that they take over the presentation.  Indeed, too many slides will literally kill your presentation and scuttle your chance of connecting with your audience.


That’s because the most important visual in the room is you, the speaker.   You want the listener looking at you, not the slides.  You want them engaging with you, discussing the issues involved in your presentation.  You don’t want them sitting in the dark, listening while you say things like “On this next slide . . . .” 


So be careful with your slides!  They can kill a presentation by overwhelming it.   Don’t let your presentation become a slide show where you’re narrating 50 slides in a thirty-minute time frame.  If you do that your slides have become tribbles.  The problem is that you won’t have Scotty to bail you out before your ship goes down.

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How to Create a Great Graphs for Presentations

Great post today by Seth Godin on “The Three Laws of Great Graphs.”

I particularly like the notion that any graph should tell a single simple story.  Introduce the slide by telling the story in a single sentence. For example, “Our costs are going through the roof.” Or, “Our competitors are making inroads in the southeast.”

Once you tell the story of the slide, then you can go to the slide itself and discuss details.

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Tim Russert Taught Us Much about Communication

The shocking death today of NBC newsman Tim Russert is a great loss for many reasons. But from my perspective it marked the loss of a wonderful communicator. 

Of course, he had a positive conversational style that made you want to watch him.  But I thought one of his greatest contributions was his ability to explain relatively complex stuff. This is particularly hard to do on television when time is very short. 

One of the things he was best known for was using a hand-held whiteboard to explain election numbers.  In the following clip, he did a great job of breaking down why Barack Obama had eliminated Hillary Clinton’s chances of winning the presidential nomination.  He started with the simple point that no Democrats thought Hillary had a chance. Then he used his trademark whiteboards to go through the numbers.  Then he ended by restating the point that Hillary can’t win.

He could have used more sophisticated television graphics. But the handwritten whiteboards made things seem so simple.


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Here’s Jobs’s iPhone Speech From Yesterday

As I was playing this speech for the first time this morning in my hotel room, my wife looked over my shoulder and said, “He’s so arrogant.”

Maybe. But he ain’t dull.

As usual, Jobs is passionate. He uses visuals that are incredibly simple. And his speciality — fun demonstrations — is on full display. In this clip he does a little demo on downloading of documents. These demos comprise the kind of little stories that make a presentation fun.

Let me know if you agree with my wife.


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Separate Your Sales Pitch With Fewer Slides

Sellers constantly ask me how to deliver sales presentations that separate them from the competition. Sometimes that separation can be accomplished with something as simple as fewer slides.

Working with a software team last week, an account representative told me that he was pitching for a piece of business against several other highly qualified vendors.  “I never bring more than five slides,” he told me.

The prospect told him that the streamlined nature of his pitch was in stark contrast with his competition. “Thanks for keeping your presentation so short,” the decision-maker told him. “I appreciate not having to look at so many slides.”

He won the business. And while there were many reasons for the win, he separated himself from the competition by refusing the temptation to overwhelm the prospect with too many slides.

Sellers often try to separate themselves from the competition with increasingly complex attempts to distinguish their products and services. That often means more slides.  But often we can separate ourselves by just executing the presentation in a way that makes life easier on the prospect.

User-friendly presentations send a wonderful message about what it’s going to be like to do business with you. That separates you.

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