Use the 87% Formula to Improve Your Next PresentationBy Brian Burkhart

I’m going to come right out and say this: Far too many presentation experts concern themselves with teaching clients the ins and outs of delivery and not substance.

Sure, delivery is critical, but don’t you think the message you need to deliver is important, too?

I base my assertion on a simple idea: Substance trumps technique.

Your Presentation Needs Substance

For people to become effective communicators, it’s important to teach them how to develop actionable content and then deliver it with effectiveness. 

It’s like seeing bowl of delicious looking grapes on your dining room table, biting into them, and realizing they’re made of wax. It’s not how the grapes look that matters—it’s what they’re made of and how they taste.

(Editor’s Note: Or biting into a chocolate chip cookie only to realize the chip are raisins.)

It’s substance!

Let me put it this way: If the world’s greatest orator (all politics aside, let’s assign that role to someone such as Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Brian Williams, Tom Hanks, or Oprah) picked up your local newspapers’ classified ads and delivered their benign, banal information in an transformational, persuasive way, would it be actionable, beneficial, or life-altering?


Believe me, we could teach you how to read the phone book with incredible passion, pace, diction, emphasis, contrast, eye contact, dramatic pause, but so what!?

Forget Flashy

Forget flashy. The bottom line for communicators and content marketing is to be effective. It sounds boring, but we can’t get caught up by the glitz and glamour of a presentation. Content matters, and it’s held of higher esteem and importance than the prettiness of your slides. 

There are no gold medals awarded at the end of your presentation. 

The job at hand is to be effective; not simply to be a dynamic presenter. 

To be effective, you need a message that deeply resonates with your audience.  A message that connects people on an emotional level, one that provides them information they can use, and with clear action steps they should take.

It’s 87% Content

Take a look at the other discussions happening in the presentation space:

  • Hand gestures
  • Body language
  • Eye contact
  • Vocal control

YES, these are incredibly important and powerful skills to master. Rehearse them proactively. Engrain them into your presenter self.

However, if you work on content first, you inherently become a dynamic and memorable presenter. Those other secondary traits will fall into place.

Most—87 percent of your time, energy, and effort should be spent on content. That’s a big number—nearly 90 percent. 

Focus in on your message.

Hone in on what you want your audience to know, feel, and do by sharing stats and telling stories.

After all that, the remaining 13 percent of your time can be spent on energy and effort on the delivery. 

You may have noticed that’s a 100 percent…and we haven’t even talked about slides yet. 

Do You Really Need Slides?

Hmmm, what gives, you ask?

All visuals—slides included—are a BONUS.  If your content is phenomenal and your delivery kicks-butt, do you really need slides?

MLK didn’t.

Kennedy didn’t.

Ghandi didn’t.

Reagan didn’t.

Clinton didn’t.

While we’re thrilled the presentation world is getting much love and attention, we ask all of you to remember the good from the bad, the effective from the useless and the hacks from the pros.

Remember that substance matters a lot, and unless you develop strong, effective content, your presentation will be topical, forgetful, and as tasteless as fake grapes (or raisin cookies!).

image credit: Pixabay

Brian Burkhart

Brian is on faculty at Northwestern University and is the founder of SquarePlanet Presentations. He's a sought after coach of TED speakers, Shark Tankers and business leaders.

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