Powerful presentations, even with PowerPoint

This is a guest post by David Lindelöf. David obtained his PhD in Physics at EPFL in Lausanne, Switzerland. From 2010 to 2018, he was the Chief Technology Officer at Neurobat. Since 2018 he has been the Senior Data Scientist at Expedia in Geneva. He shares his thoughts on learning, computers and other interesting topics on his blog.

I recently had the pleasure of joining David and around 100 of his colleagues at their annual off-site meeting. At the event, I gave a keynote address on public speaking. And Daire O’Doherty, one of my improv troupe partners, joined me and together we ran four workshops on the benefits of improv for business.


Dear student of public speaking,

Have you ever watched a TED Talk and wondered how the speaker did it? How can anyone give a perfect delivery to an audience without notes? How can you speak confidently on topics frequently unfamiliar to the audience and share information that they will remember years later?

You can deliver a powerful presentation

It’s not an easy feat, but neither is it a skill reserved for a chosen few. It’s a skill that you can practise and learn—which is probably why you are reading this blog in the first place.

But perhaps you think that the powerpoint-heavy presentations that you have to give on a weekly basis have nothing in common with TED Talks. You present business studies, analyses, scientific reports and other “serious” subjects. You are even expected to provide a PowerPoint deck, compliant with the local brand guidelines, and which can be forwarded to those who couldn’t attend your presentation. It must be full of details, numbers, and text; a standalone document. Surely the highly visual, minimalist, pithy slides seen at TED Talks have no place in a business setting.

Surely, that is, unless you want your presentation to be effective.
My company’s analytics business unit, about 100 people, convened for our annual two-day offsite meeting in May. Remarkably for such a highly technical and analytic community, there was a strong desire this year to focus on soft skills. People wanted to hear about stakeholder management, fear of failure and, you guessed it, public presentations.

John Zimmer, the creator of this blog, was a natural choice for an external trainer on public speaking. He gave a keynote full of actionable tips and techniques to deliver powerful, impactful presentations—even in a business environment.

A lesson from Aristotle

I cannot give a full summary of all the advice John gave, but the one thing I will remember the most was the importance of having every single presentation contain the right mixture of Aristotle’s three modes of persuasion:

  • Logos: facts, figures, and logic

Most presentations, like mine, tend to be excessively burdened with logos at the expense of the other two elements. So the next time you give a presentation, don’t forget to establish your credibility and infuse your presentation with some human element. The latter doesn’t have to be silly, cute, or involve cats; but instead of presenting dry, boring facts, consider trying to tell stories with your data.

A post-event survey showed that John’s intervention (and the theatrical improvisation workshops his Renegade Saints troupe gave) were the two most highly rated events during the offsite. It’s easy to understand why.

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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