The life-changing magic of tidying up your presentations

Marie Kondo, author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

As I write this post, my wife and I are approximately three weeks into a massive effort to tidy up our home. This is no ordinary, annual clean-up; this is a methodical full-on assault to go through all of our possessions and really decide what we need or want, and to get rid of the rest.

The exercise was inspired by The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, the #1 New York Times best-selling book by Marie Kondo. Time magazine named her one of its 100 Most Influential People of 2015. I thought it odd that a book on tidying up would be a best-seller, but I am glad that I read it.

Kondo’s approach is straightforward. She says that you have to go through each of your possessions and ask yourself a simple question: Does the item spark joy? If yes, keep it; if no, out it goes.

It seems deceptively easy in theory but it is highly effective in practice. I estimate that we have already gotten rid of 25 to 30 boxes of stuff. Most of it has been donated to charity or given to friends, and a lot has been recycled.

I don’t agree with all of Kondo’s advice; for example, I have no intention of removing every photo from every album and asking myself if it sparks joy. Nonetheless, I have found her guidance to be useful. One thing, in particular, has helped with the work: going through items, not by place, but by category.

Marie Kondo says that selecting and discarding by place (for example, by room) is fatal because similar items are stored in different places. This results in wasted time by repeating the same process for the same kinds of items, makes it harder to keep track of what you want to keep and kills motivation.

Better, in Kondo’s opinion, to sort and discard by category. She recommends the following order: clothes; books; papers; miscellaneous items (which she calls by the Japanese name komono); and, finally, sentimental items. Her logic is that clothes have a low “rarity value” and are the easiest to cull. You thus build momentum as you move on to other items.

There is much more to Kondo’s philosophy. If you have ever struggled with reducing your possessions, it would be worth checking out The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

Many people could also benefit from Kondo’s advice when it comes to presenting. Far too many presentations suffer when speakers cover too much material or go into too many details or blitz the audience with overloaded slides. We need to get better at reducing the material to what is essential.

Just as Marie Kondo recommends tidying by category, speakers can take a similar approach when deciding what to put into their presentations:

1.  Only talk about things that are of interest or relevance to your audience. Think of this as the equivalent of asking whether the topics will “spark joy” in the audience.

2.  List the different messages you could deliver to the audience.

3.  Reduce that list to the most important ones. Ideally, you should have one message. Yes, in some cases, you might have more. But the more messages you have, the more complicated it is for the audience.

4.  For your message, list the main points that you could make to reinforce it. For example, if you were advocating that your company build a new manufacturing facility in another country, your list might include construction costs, proximity to manufacturing materials, proximity to established markets, new market opportunities, labour, taxes, potential for expansion, operating costs, etc. There could be dozens of reasons.

5.  Reduce those main points to the most important ones. How many is up to you. Three is strongest number in rhetoric, but it could be more, depending on the subject, your audience, past experience, etc. However, if you have 20 valid reasons to build that new facility, you will not do yourself (or the audience) a favour if you attempt to cover all 20 in your presentation. That’s what a briefing document is for. Let the audience know that there are 20 reasons and that they are set out in the document, but that you will focus on the three (or more) most important ones.

6. For each main point, list the supporting points that you could make. Continuing with the example, if one of the main reasons for building a manufacturing facility in another country is the local labour force, supporting points might include education and skill levels, experience with the products being manufactured, level of salaries and benefits, ability to communicate in the language of the head office, etc.

7. For each main point, reduce the supporting points to the most important ones.

By this stage, you should have a fairly decent outline of what you want to cover in the presentation. Of course, there is more work to be done, but by starting this way, you have the foundation for a tidy presentation. Marie Kondo would approve.

Photo courtesy of KonMari

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John delivered a keynote address about the importance of public speaking to 80 senior members of Gore’s Medical Device Europe team at an important sales event. He was informative, engaging and inspirational. Everyone was motivated to improve their public speaking skills. Following his keynote, John has led public speaking workshops for Gore in Barcelona and Munich. He is an outstanding speaker who thinks carefully about the needs of his audience well before he steps on stage.

Karsta Goetze

TA Leader, Gore and Associates

I first got in touch with John while preparing to speak at TED Global about my work on ProtonMail. John helped me to sharpen the presentation and get on point faster, making the talk more focused and impactful. My speech was very well received, has since reached almost 1.8 million people and was successful in explaining a complex subject (email encryption) to a general audience.

Andy Yen

CEO, Proton Technologies

John gave the opening keynote on the second day of our unit’s recent offsite in Geneva, addressing an audience of 100+ attendees with a wealth of tips and techniques to deliver powerful, memorable presentations. I applied some of these techniques the very next week in an internal presentation, and I’ve been asked to give that presentation again to senior management, which has NEVER happened before. John is one of the greatest speakers I know and I can recommend his services without reservation.

David Lindelöf

Senior Data Scientist, Expedia Group

After a morning of team building activities using improvisation as the conduit, John came on stage to close the staff event which was organised in Chamonix, France. His energy and presence were immediately felt by all the members of staff. The work put into the preparation of his speech was evident and by sharing some his own stories, he was able to conduct a closing inspirational speech which was relevant, powerful and impactful for all at IRU. The whole team left feeling engaged and motivated to tackle the 2019 objectives ahead. Thank you, John.

Umberto de Pretto

Secretary General, World Road Transport Organization

I was expecting a few speaking tips and tricks and a few fun exercises, but you went above and beyond – and sideways. You taught me to stand tall. You taught me to anchor myself. You taught me to breathe. You taught me to open up. You taught me to look people in the eye. You taught me to tell the truth. You taught me to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. I got more than I bargained for in the best possible way.

Thuy Khoc-Bilon

World Cancer Day Campaign Manager, Union for International Cancer Control

John gave a brilliant presentation on public speaking during the UN EMERGE programme in Geneva (a two days workshop on leadership development for a group of female staff members working in the UN organizations in Geneva). His talk was inspirational and practical, thanks to the many techniques and tips he shared with the audience. His teaching can dramatically change our public speaking performance and enable us as presenters to have a real and powerful impact. Thank you, John, for your great contribution!

Sara Canna

HR Specialist, World Health Organization

John is a genuine communication innovator. His seminars on gamification of public speaking learning and his interactive Rhetoric game at our conference set the tone for change and improvement in our organisation. The quality of his input, the impact he made with his audience and his effortlessly engaging style made it easy to get on board with his core messages and won over some delegates who were extremely skeptical as to the efficacy of games for learning. I simply cannot recommend him highly enough.

Thomas Scott

National Education Director, Association of Speakers Clubs UK

John joined our Global Sales Meeting in Segovia, Spain and we all participated in his "Improv(e) your Work!" session. I say “all” because it really was all interactive, participatory, learning and enjoyable. The session surprised everybody and was a fresh-air activity that brought a lot of self-reflection and insights to improve trust and confidence in each other inside our team. It´s all about communication and a good manner of speaking!"

Jon Lopez

General Manager Europe, Hayward Industries

Thank you very much for the excellent presentation skills session. The feedback I received was very positive. Everyone enjoyed the good mix of listening to your speech, co-developing a concrete take-away and the personal learning experience. We all feel more devoted to the task ahead, more able to succeed and an elevated team spirit. Delivering this in a short time, both in session and in preparation, is outstanding!

Henning Dehler

CFO European Dairy Supply Chain & Operations, Danone

Thanks to John’s excellent workshop, I have learned many important tips and techniques to become an effective public speaker. John is a fantastic speaker and teacher, with extensive knowledge of the field. His workshop was a great experience and has proven extremely useful for me in my professional and personal life.

Eric Thuillard

Senior Sales Manager, Sunrise Communications

John’s presentation skills training was a terrific investment of my time. I increased my skills in this important area and feel more comfortable when speaking to an audience. John provided the right mix between theory and practice.

Diego Brait

Director of the Jura Region, BKW Energie AG

Be BOLD. Those two words got stuck in my head and in the heads of all those ADP leaders and associates that had the privilege to see John on stage. He was our keynote speaker at our annual convention in Barcelona, and his message still remains! John puts his heart in every word. Few speakers are so credible, humble and yet super strong with large audiences!

Guadalupe Garcia

Senior Director and Talent Partner, ADP International