After many were already writing off the European teams in the World Cup when the groups stage was over, now 3 out of the 4 semi finalists are from the “old continent”. The exit of the two South American powerhouses Argentina and Brazil came as a shock – Brazil because they completely lost the plot in the second half of their game against the Netherlands, Argentina because they never quite had a plot against Germany. However, the situations are quite different: While no one was expecting Argentinian coach Maradona to outperform their opponents on the tactical level, the Brazilian people only granted Carlos Dunga permission to play a result oriented, tactical style for as long as the results were good.
Brazilians love soccer, probably more than any other country, but for them soccer has to be played beautiful. “Joga Bonito” – play beautiful – is often considered more important than the actual result. The players are not only considered sport stars, they are artists, many of them carrying stage names. If it’s not beautiful, it’s not Brazilian.
Brazil is the most successful country in the history of the World Cup, winning the title five times, but the discussion on the best style of play is a never ending story in Brazil. It seems like a pendulum swinging from the side of hyper-offensive, technically skilled, “Brazilian” play to the side of the result oriented, “European”, tactical approach. Every time the team disappoints at a big tournament, the pendulum seems to swing back, probably every eight years or so. Current coach Carlos Dunga was on the European, result oriented side. He left players able to play a very Brazilian style, like e.g. Ronaldinho, at home and built a team of tactically advanced players which he put into a 4-2-3-1 formation (two defensive midfielders can hardly be accepted from a “Brazilian” team). As Dunga failed, dropping out in the quarter finals, you can expect the Brazilian public to make sure the next coach will be “Joga Bonito” oriented. And the pendulum keeps swinging.
But what’s right? And is there an answer to it? Looking at the World Cup it seems like none of the extreme positions would be guaranteeing success. Extremely result oriented teams like Italy already went home after the group stage, while usually very beautifully playing teams like the Netherlands or Spain advanced to the semis with a for their measures quite unfancy style and a usually extremely result oriented team like Germany (note: The German word “Schönspieler” for someone who plays beautiful can also be used as a criticism for not getting to the point) plays more beautiful than usual and is successful doing so. What’s the right strategy to win?
In soccer it is normal that people ask themselves this question, but I am always astonished how few do alike when it comes to presentation styles. They just do what they’ve always done. And regrettably most play pretty unfancy in this game. How many ugly slides, unnecessary facts and bullet points can you take before, like the Brazilian people, you ask for “Joga Bonito”?
Obviously people in meeting rooms can accept a lot more of visual punishment than people in front of the giant screen on Copacabana beach. Why is this? Is it because they have never seen a good presentation? Is it because they don’t expect anything different? Is it because they have no sense of esthetics? Or is it because they just don’t care?
A great presentation and a great slide deck are not great because they are colorful or feature some pictures. They are great because they transmit a message in a way that touches people. Just like in this World Cup, where the best teams play result oriented yet in style.
And it’s no rocket science either. Here are my five tips for approaching the topic of nice looking yet effective presentations:
1) Read Garr Reynolds
2) Watch Steve Jobs presenting. No, seriously. His presentations are very visual, he tells stories, he’s emotional – he’s simply a very good presenter. You can find a lot of his presentations on the Apple homepage. Also, Garr Reynolds (see above) has some good analysis of Steve’s style here and here.
3) Read the Heath Brothers
4) Play & Reduce
The biggest challenge for most presenters according to my experience is to reduce the amount of content on each slide. Here’s the good news: You don’t have to print slides on transparencies anymore, so it does not matter how many slides you have. A slide with just one sentence on it may be good. Also, a slide with only one word on it may be good. Even a slide without any words on it may be good.
Many also believe a slide deck should be a means of complete documentation of the topic you present, too. It’s not. Don’t believe what they tell you.
I love the concept of Pecha Kucha, which only allows 20 slides per deck that are shown for exactly 20 seconds each (for a total of 6 minutes and 40 seconds per presentation), as it is a good lesson in how to reduce a message and be to the point. Why not try it out for yourself? Or go with Seth Godin’s idea he blogged a few days ago: A slide every 12 seconds, 200 slides in all. These exercises will soon show you what I meant when speaking about playing result oriented yet in style.
5) Watch, Learn, Try
How many presentations have you seen in your life? Yes, it feels like a million. Each presentation gives you the opportunity to learn. Learn from things that were done well and from things that could be done better (after running through steps 1-4 you will easily be able to spot them).
Then: Do it. As much as you won’t improve your swimming skills without water, you won’t improve you presentation skills without presenting. Don’t be afraid to be imperfect. I’ve been keeping myself busy with the topic for several years now and I’m far from those masters I spoke about earlier. But then what do you have to lose? Anything is better than bullet-point overkills and you will realize how quickly the quality of your presentations will improve.
Be prepared that not everybody will appreciate your new presentation style – but that’s normal and hey, not everybody appreciates a beautiful style of soccer, either. On the long run, you will score.