• Work Life Journal

Delivering Presentations that Resonate

When I first started teaching at university I was determined to make a difference. Without hesitation, I decided to approach my sessional work as my life work. Yet, with little support to get me through presenting to seminar rooms filled with bored and sleepy students, I was eager to teach myself how to bring my presentations to life. Whether in education or in business, communicating concepts effectively is often challenging in itself. However, engaging or influencing your audience requires a finely-tuned art.

After weeks of scouring the libraries and online bookstores, one book stood out from the pack: Resonate, by Nancy Duarte. Resonate master’s the art of presenting via story-telling to transform audiences. One of the first things that resonated for me when I started to read this book was the book’s intention: “it is …for people with ambition, purpose, and an uncommon work ethic.” In that instant, the book spoke to me. In other words, this book is about transcending the ordinary and using the art of communication to turn your audience’s experience into an engaging and transformational journey that resonates and endures.

Before embarking on your presentation journey, there are some essential ground rules that must be met. Firstly, Duarte stresses the need to be real, to be yourself. Authenticity, humility and being open to share your personal story opens the gateway to connecting with your audience. Don’t be afraid to show and share emotion. If you are not able to connect, how will you create your impact? Use evocative visuals to spark emotion, use story-telling about personal experience (yours or another’s). However, know who your audience is before you develop your presentation in order to get the right balance of emotion and data. For instance, audiences who are highly analytical will not want to deal with too much emotion in a presentation, it will just make them feel uncomfortable. However, they can be deeply touched through your messages, particularly if their intent and possible outcome is to change lives.

Another important thing you need to be clear on is understanding who the hero is in this venture: no, it is not you, it is the audience! Make your presentation clearly about your audience, focusing on their needs “so it resonates at their frequency, not yours”. Know who you are presenting to, to understand what keeps them awake at night, how they would like to transform their world/the company/their team. Duarte suggests presenters embrace humility and to open the presentation “from a shared place of understanding”.

Structure is an important element of your presentation. According to Duarte, a simple approach is to sticky-note your ideas by writing one idea per note and then arrange them in clusters of like-minded or associated concepts. This will then enable you to work out your key slides and sequential arrangement.

The content of your presentation is one of the most important elements of the process. One fatal mistake that presenters often make is to flood the presentation with superfluous information. Duarte highlights that people have a limit to what their brain can process (they can either read the slide or listen to you, not both). Therefore, by reducing the number of slides, you have a greater capacity to tell your story without it being lost within the pages on the screen. Furthermore, Duarte recommends no more than 75 words per slide, otherwise it becomes more of a report, not a presentation. Moreover, avoid bullet points and use more images or charts than words (as the audience are likely to remember the images or charts more than the words).

When including data in your presentation, be sure to transform the bland facts into a story around the data. What is the data telling you? Why is it important? What impact will this have on your organisation? What does this mean for the future? What is unique about it?

Last, but not least, the delivery of the presentation is the most critical component of all. In order to pull this off to the standard and impact that you hope for, allow ample time to prepare, arrange and rehearse your presentation. Duarte estimates the preparation time for an effective presentation will take anywhere from between 36 and 90 hours. As for the delivery itself, your preparations should have you well-equipped to talk to your slides. As you talk through your presentation, contrast between data and story – weaving your personal touch throughout. However, what is paramount is the way in which you deliver your messages. A natural conversationalist style is the preferred speech style, which is easier to listen to, engage with and resonate.

While presentations aim to transform, not every brilliant idea creates a catalyst for change. Some get lost in the ether, whilst mediocre ones rise to the fore. What’s the bet that the communication around the latter was far more powerful and transformational than the former? We often fall under the misnomer that a brilliant idea will take flight due to its own inherent virtues. Yet this is, unfortunately, hardly the case. The communication around ideas is what sells, influences or engenders – not the idea itself.


Resonate, Present Visual Stories that Transform Audiences, 2010, Duarte, Nancy, John Wiley and Sons, New Jersey, USA.


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