All Hands OFF Deck: 3 Important Questions to Transform your Next Presentation

by Andrea Driessen, Chief Boredom Buster at No More Boring Meetings


Martin Luther King didn’t have one. Neither did Winston Churchill. Elizabeth Gilbert, in her exceptionally popular TED talk on nurturing creative genius, went without.

Three revolutionary presenters, and not one slide.

Some believe that for our meeting messages to make a difference, we must rely on data-rich slides on big screens. While slides can augment our ideas, audiences can be swayed—and the world even changed—when we make compelling points sans PowerPoint.

I have the honor of working with some of the best speakers on the professional circuit. I see what resonates with audiences—and what makes them tune out. What bores and what roars.

Whether you’re preparing a speech for five stakeholders in the C-Suite, 10 important prospects, or 1000 industry peers, you must know how to craft points with maximum impact, and without massive stress. And by occasionally “thinking outside the slide,” you can see what other means of communication come into view.

So how do you get and keep audiences’ attention—without slides—in an era of palpable distraction? Ask yourself three crucial questions:

1. What change do you want to elicit? Said another way, what problem does your presentation solve?

The most common mistake I see presenters make: Not stepping beyond themselves to see their remarks from the audience’s point of view. Even though you’re the one on stage, always remember the talk is not about you. It’s about those in front of you. And it’s your job to get them to care. The burden is on you to share insights that are new and relevant.

2. If your audience remembers only two Tweets’ worth of your presentation (and, realistically, that’s all they will remember), what will they be?

Intentionally plant—or if you’re hiring speakers, ask them to plant—these takeaway Tweetables, and the audience will have experienced a powerful, memorable talk. If you’re a regular on Twitter, apply this sparse use of language to spice up and simplify your presentations. A classic example, from presentation master Steve Jobs, when Apple released the first iPod: “A thousand songs in your pocket.” An idea so quickly understood and pulsing with desire, that it went viral.

3. Open one of your old presentation slide decks. Now imagine you’re about to present that same content again and—gasp!—the power goes out. What will you do to convey your most important points?

Applying this unlikely scenario to real life, before you work on your next presentation, actually re-design the current presentation with this “lights-out” scenario in mind to inspire new thinking.

Since the lights will undoubtedly stay on for you, consider some “sans-slides” messaging tools that boost memorability:

  • Short videos

  • Graphic illustration (invite someone to draw out your ideas while you talk)

  • Interviews

  • Read a testimonial letter from a real customer

  • Short quiz or game

  • Product demo

  • Custom (read: relevant) song about your topic, sung live from stage

  • Exclusive “reveal”

In choosing slide-less formats, know that for real change to begin, you must connect with people at an emotional level. Data don’t do this; relevant, succinct stories do. Ensure every element of your presentation supports the takeaways your audience wants. Does X help solve meeting attendees’ problems? If not, then let it….slide!

Also at this stage, try brainstorming with something other than a digital device: a note pad, white board, sticky notes, napkin, chalk. You’re more likely to venture beyond linear thinking to more creative realms, and land on novel ideas.

So, try setting aside your slides—and prepare to change the meetings world with your revolutionary ideas.


Andrea Driessmug shoten is Chief Boredom Buster at No More Boring Meetings in Seattle, WA, and longtime SHW vendor partner. An international award-winning business owner, she’s been busting boredom and booking top speakers and thought leaders at events for 30 years.

The author of The Non-Obvious Guide to Event Planning: For Kick-Ass Gatherings that Inspire People (2019), Andrea works with clients including Starbucks, Microsoft, Habitat for Humanity and hundreds more.