Getting to the punchline

In which I enthusiastically recommend an effective remedy for forgettable presentations, and ponder the wisdom of PowerPoint.

Have you ever had a moment at the end of a Bible lecture or sermon where you struggle to remember point the speaker was trying to make?

I have. Even reviewing some of my own lectures I've been concerned that there's an element of meandering, a wander between a number of interesting points, interspersed with occasional forays into stories which (while fascinating of course) don't necessarily reinforce the lesson at hand.

A few years ago I found myself in an Oxford book shop with several hours to kill. Up on one of the shelves was a bright red book with the word "Presentation" in the title, so I took it down to have a read.

It's called "The Presentation Coach", and it's brilliant.

You should probably buy this book

The book walks you through a staged process that is pretty much guaranteed to make sure you stay on topic and form a compelling argument that people will remember. Here are a few key points to whet your appetite:

  • First create a succinct microstatement. If the audience only remember a single phrase from the presentation, this should be it. This is the hardest part of your content to create.

  • Make around 3 points to support that microstatement. Each should be diverse. I tend to pace the audience to looking up a single Bible passage per point, although I may refer to more.

  • Don't faff about with platitudes when you start talking. The start of a presentation is about the only time when you're guaranteed to have everyone's attention, so hit them with something. The author calls this a spike.

  • End with a call-to-action, something that people will remember.

  • A microstatement can support 15 minutes of content, 20 tops. If you can't make a decent point in that amount of time, your microstatement is too complex or your arguments aren't formed well enough.

  • If you're forced to talk for longer than 20 minute limit, create multiple microstatements and repeat the process for each.

When I started using the tips in this book I was blown away by how much the congregation remembered. If I asked people afterwards what they thought the key points were, they were able to repeat the microstatement back to me almost verbatim.

Now I just have to make sure that the points are worth remembering : )

I decided to follow the book exactly for a year or so before playing around with the formula, which has led to one change that I hadn't anticipated: no PowerPoint.

I'm not sure what I think of this. I'm no artist and don't have a particularly strong sense of good design. However, some of the best presentations I've seen make great use of PowerPoint.

Some time ago I stumbled across the following quote from Microsoft's own PowerPoint guidance:

PowerPoint doesn't give presentations -- PowerPoint makes slides (Matt Thornhill, Audience First)

Inferring of course, that it's up to you to give the presentation. This is clearly the case, and I don't think it's a bad thing to have spent my time working on presentation skills before working out how PowerPoint can support them.

I'd love to hear how you found the book if you read it - get in touch via Twitter or the Facebook page.


Bible enthusiast, husband, Dad, and tech-head with too many projects and not enough time.