Up Your Platform Game Using Content and Technology


No matter how good you are on the platform, there’s always room for improvement. By taking full advantage of technology and delivering great visual content, you can take any presentation to the next level—thereby fully engaging your audience and providing greater takeaway value. Over the past 10 years, I’ve found a few ways to do just that.

Building a Following

Ten years ago, as CEO of a venture-backed software company (CoManage Corp.), I joined a CEO network called Vistage International. If you’ve never heard of it, perhaps you’ve heard of Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO). Vistage is in the same category. In the Vistage process, 17,000 CEOs and other key executives meet monthly in fixed groups of eight to 18 members. Some simple math tells us there must be more than 1,000 Vistage groups worldwide. Most of these groups are in the United States, but you can also find Vistage in China, Australia, the United Kingdom and Malaysia, among numerous other counties. As Vistage members, we take one full day every month to work on our businesses instead of in our businesses.

In roughly two-thirds of these meetings, we bring in expert speakers for a three-hour presentation on … well, you name it. Topics include anything that can enhance members’ personal or professional lives: strategy, corporate culture, team dynamics, recruiting, health and fitness, even wine tasting and food pairing (a master sommelier’s session on “power entertaining”). Keep doing the math: More than 1,000 groups times eight speakers a year. Vistage needs to fill approximately 8,000 speaking slots annually. Probably more. That must rank them among the largest speaker bureaus on the planet— booking exclusively in front of CXO audiences. I like CXOs because they select speakers for their own company meetings, for the associations they chair and for the not-for-profit organizations they support. Interested yet?

By 2009, I was running, a social media company I founded after selling CoManage in 2005. TalkShoe grew quickly to more than 1 million monthly users, and I learned a lot about using social media in business. I thought that my fellow Vistage group mates (17 other CEOs) should know about social media, like, yesterday. So I created a three-hour program for them and delivered it pro bono (a Latin term that roughly translates to “soon you’ll be begging for food”). They said it was at least as good as what they’d seen from other speakers and recommended that I apply to become a Vistage speaker, not just a Vistage member. And so I did. Vistage members, the industry associations they chair, and the not-for-profits they support loved my presentations, too. But it wasn’t just because of the content.

Content and Technology Unite

If it’s not my content, is it because with long hair I look a little bit like John Denver? I doubt it. The common element is the structure and delivery of my presentations—including the technology. So, how can you use technology to more fully engage your audience? How can you use technology so that they learn more—and apply, profit from and rave about your presentations?

• Show them; don’t tell them.

• Use images, not text.

In real estate, you’ve heard about the three most important criteria: location, location, location. In delivering an engaging presentation, the three most important criteria are iPad®, iPad, iPad. With the iPad, Apple® provides a free presentation program called Keynote® (like PowerPoint®, only better). As a professional speaker, it’s an investment worth making even if your phone is an Android™ or Windows device (if it’s still a Blackberry®, we need to talk). An iPad running Keynote® has numerous advantages over a PC and Microsoft PowerPoint®. Most importantly, an iPad can send video output to a monitor/projector that differs from what’s shown on its own display. As such, its screen becomes a touch-driven “presentation control center.”

Rather than mirroring what’s on the projector, the iPad displays your next slide and/or build (so that you always know where you’re going) or displays your presenter notes (also quite handy). By swiping in from the left side of the screen, you can access a slide navigator and quickly scroll up or down to jump to any slide in your deck, without breaking from presentation mode. You can even organize your slides hierarchically to make it easy to branch into greater or lesser depth on the fly. Also on the iPad screen, you’ll see the time, battery life, slide number and several other helpful indicators. Yes, I know that the newest PowerPoint®/Windows can be configured to do most of these things, but it’s hard, and it’s not as reliable, and it takes time at setup. That’s the last thing you need when getting ready to go on stage. The iPad works straight out of the box.

Minimal Text, Maximum Imagery

Now equipped with your iPad and Keynote® app, how do you create an engaging presentation? For starters, don’t use text (and don’t use bulleted lists)! You don’t need text in your slides because you provide the words when speaking. Your slides should be primarily images, pictures and videos—lots of images, pictures and videos. The human brain is visual. It remembers two-thirds of what it sees versus 10 percent of what it hears. I admit that I sometimes violate this rule. I do use text for short titles (maybe six words) on perhaps 20 percent of my slides. And I used bulleted lists on slides 36 and 77 of one of my decks, but they are really short lists. One is three bullets long with two words each (accompanied by three images); the other is two bullets long using a total of seven words (also with an image).

The old rule for PowerPoint® was to use 11 to 15 slides for a one-hour presentation. I use roughly 150 slides per hour, with hundreds of additional builds and highlights as I go. In other words, I show instead of tell. I estimate that I’ve invested more than 100 hours in building each of my three core presentations. And I spend a few hours updating and evolving my slides every month. It’s a huge investment, but audience members often tell me that it’s the single best presentation they’ve ever seen.

Explore Your Story

Before you can create your compelling presentation, you must have a compelling story. I believe the story must accomplish two things for every member of the audience:

• Be entertaining.

• Provide immediately actionable takeaway value.

With a strong story, an outline of how you’ll tell it and your brand-new iPad/ Keynote® in hand, use Google Images ( to find the best visual content to illustrate your story. You can also find countless videos to illustrate virtually any concept on YouTube. Look for content available under a “Creative Commons” license that you can “use with attribution.” Yahoo’s Flickr site is another great source of such content. When you have what you want on your iPad screen, capture it. Pressing the “home” button (the circular button below the display) and the power button simultaneously, for a fraction of a second (do not hold too long) captures the current screen to your photo roll. You can then use that photo in Keynote®. More than 90 percent of my slides are built this way.

Of course, you can also use your iPad to take photos, and I use lots of those, too. Include some videos in your story. I don’t like to stream videos live off the Internet because of the unpredictable performance of any network. So I record everything and embed these videos in Keynote® (as easy as adding a photo). There are both high-tech and low-tech ways to capture video. The high-tech solutions are best done on a desktop computer (PC or Mac®) using screen-recording software such as Camtasia, ScreenFlow, or SnapZ Pro. (I sometimes use the latter on my Mac.) However, I actually prefer the low-tech solution (see sidebar). I use my smartphone to “film” my iPad as it plays a video. Unlike filming a television monitor with its flickering screen and raster scan, the iPad’s retina display is captured crisp and clear.

Three More Things You Need

So now you’ve been working on your new presentation for 30 to 60 days. You’ve got a rockin’ Keynote® ready to deliver. There are three other things you’ll need. To connect to a projector, you’ll need a VGA adapter dongle. And for a high-definition monitor, you’ll need an HDMI adapter dongle. Together they’ll set you back $60. Don’t be tempted to go wireless using AppleTV® (or similar). You’ll be subject to the same random network performance problems as with live video streaming. Be sure to get the version of dongles that allows simultaneous charging; otherwise, you’ll always be worried about battery life. (As an aside, the new iPad Air® can run about four to six hours under heavy load, as long as you remember to start with it fully charged. It won’t make it through a full-day session.)

Next, you’ll need audio. I love the “Big Jambox” (about $300), available through Best Buy, Apple®, Amazon and other retailers. It connects to the iPad using Bluetooth and is beefy enough for a room of about 100 people. Beyond that, you’ll be able to connect your iPad to in-room audio using the standard headphone jack (which works great). And finally, you’ll need a remote to run the show so that you’re not tethered to your iPad. (Once, I had to leave my iPad in the back of the room because that’s where the video connection was.) Your smartphone is your remote control. If you use an Android™ phone, get the “PowerPoint® Keynote® Remote” app from the Google store. If you use an iPhone, get the “Keynote® Remote” app from the Apple® store. These apps will connect to your iPad via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. For Wi-Fi, I activate the iPad’s “Personal Hotspot” feature so that I’m on my own private network, guaranteeing high performance. New technology is always daunting. Yes, it will take time, and it will cost money. But I have no doubt that your return on investment will be impressive. You’ll engage your audiences more, deliver more value and get more follow-on business. You’ll likely even command higher fees.

My Favorite Apps

Evernote® (free or $45/year for premium service) is a note-taking app on steroids! It allows you to capture anything, to access it anywhere and most importantly, to find things fast. In addition to typing notes when I talk to clients, Evernote allows me to save information in almost every way imaginable: directly from a website, from email, using a scanner, talking to my smartphone and even taking photographs of written content (my favorite mode). Through the magic of optical character recognition, even the words in scans and photos can be found using search, even if handwritten. Evernote is my second brain.

TripIt® (free or $49/year for premium service) takes all those email confirmations from airlines, hotels and car rental agencies and automatically forms them into calendar records. Because this happens in the cloud, your travel calendar can also be shared with others, say your spouse or assistant. TripIt then monitors the fares you paid and notifies you whenever you can save money (accounting for any change fees) by exchanging tickets. It’s not uncommon to recapture more than $100 on a trip as the airlines continuously manipulate their prices.

Waze® (free) This is the best GPS-style navigation app for your smartphone (Apple iOS or Google Android™). It uses the collective experience of its rapidly growing user base to dynamically route you around traffic jams and accidents. Further, it alerts you to police activity, traffic cameras and all sorts of other driving hazards. You know it must be awesome if Apple®, Facebook and Google got into a bidding war to buy the company. (Google now owns it.)

FollowUpThen (free) is simply amazing. Whenever I use email to communicate with a client, a prospect or anyone else, and it’s an important “transaction” to which I expect a response, I set a reminder. In the BCC field, I specify 7days@followupthen. com (or any other interval:, 1month@, etc.). After the specified time, FollowUpThen sends me a “friendly reminder” and if the transaction was not completed, I’ll pick it up again. No more dropping the ball, even when they do.


Dave Nelsen

Dave Nelsen

Dave Nelsen runs Dialog Group, a boutique consulting firm that helps senior executives develop strategies to enhance conversations with their most important internal and external customers using social media and mobile technology. Nelsen has been recognized as Entrepreneur of the Year by Ernst & Young, as CEO of the Year by the Tech Council, and as Speaker of the Year by Vistage International.
Dave Nelsen
Dave Nelsen
Dave Nelsen

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