Content, preparation—and, most important: plating. They say presentation can separate the cook from the chef. One slaps food on the table and prays the diner appreciates the subtle and compelling marriage of flavors. The other arranges each component to be enjoyed both distinctly and as an element of a larger experience.

Presentations are a business staple. In fact, they are second only to email as the most commonly used business tool. Yet, many professionals design presentations that qualify more as hardpan than angel food. Audiences are subjected to static, one-way presentations that are neither memorable nor effective.

Why is a tool that is so germane to business so grossly misused? Presentations are too often speech-like rather than conversational; they are too often filled with talking heads and heavily worded, mundane slides that the audience has to work to figure out.

Like a good meal with good friends, great presentations encourage sharing, interaction, and conversation. Simply flinging your best ingredients onto the stove and slopping them onto the plate won't satisfy.

So sharpen your knives, oil your pans, and think like a top chef preparing a meal that will stimulate the senses, invite conversation, and demand involvement.

Cardboard Wedding Cake

Would you prefer a presentation that is ornate but tastes like a brown paper bag? Or one that is so artfully crafted that it entices an audience to savor the tasty morsels and discuss the meal?

Beware the temptation of flamboyance. Content is king, and clarity is key. Create delicious messages that inspire (rather than tire) audiences, leaving them full but still wanting to come back for seconds.

It Takes a Kitchen to Raise a Soufflé

Imagine the struggles of the lone chef, dashing from stove to fridge, from oven to table. So collaborate with colleagues, team members, or even clients to take your presentation from good to great. Use an online presentation tool that allows you to share and gather feedback in real time from key stakeholders, prospects, or customers. By sharing the kitchen, you allow others to become invested in the process. The interaction creates a discussion that can move you to the next stage in your process, whether that is closing a deal or creating deeper engagement with customers.

Feed 'em Like the French

The French serve up their dishes fresh—delicious meals in small portions. The presentation and company are as important as the meal itself. Rather than serving a super-sized platter of text and bullet points, give your guests appetizing, 140-character morsels that will be remembered and discussed long after the final course.

Sometimes it's Straight from the Box

Even the most sophisticated chefs occasionally use "pre-prepared" ingredients. Why start from scratch when you can build on what already works? Ready-to-use, customizable presentations and themes help spark inspiration and save precious time. The dirty little secret—that your great grandma's secret-recipe for pasta sauce came from a can—is out.

Spice it Like Emeril

Take a cue from Chef Lagasse: Punch up your bland presentation slides with an array of flavors that will have your audiences coming back for seconds. You have access to a virtual spice rack of Web-based applications that allow you to easily include interactive elements such as video, high-definition photos, audio, polls, real-time feeds, and more.

Plating, Plating, Plating

The waiter convinced you to order something called "Miso Monkfish." You're dubious, but when the plate is set before you... your mouth falls open at the elegant presentation of fish and accompaniments. A great chef knows that appealing to your visual sense adds to the experience of a great-tasting meal. Similarly, a slide accompanied with a relevant image is sometimes all that is needed to make a powerful statement.

Choose images that clearly convey key points and messages. Using images of people is a great way to connect emotionally with your audience members and draw them into the presentation. Extend the visual impact with your choice of background and font type. Choose a single color palette, and use it consistently throughout your presentation. Punch up a plain title with a different font.

Be careful not to overcrowd the plate with too many visual elements. Like a plate at a fine restaurant, the details should serve to enhance, rather than overpower the food.

Encourage Dinner Conversation

The buzz of laughter and conversation enhances the experience of a shared meal. Like any great host, don't leave the discussion to chance. Actively encourage participation and interaction: Doing so is as simple as incorporating multimedia elements, such as YouTube clips or voice-overs, to stimulate discussion; or including polling questions to gather real-time feedback.

For live or webcast presentations, use social media to get your guests chatting, sharing, and clinking glasses. Offer tweetable, 140-character sound-bite hors d'oeuvres for key messages or takeaways throughout the presentation that guests can share. Include a #hashtag to encourage real-time, active discussion. You can also include a twitter feed directly into your presentation so guests can follow the conversation and contribute ideas and thoughts.


Restaurants, and the hospitality industry as a whole, have long understood the power of reviews. Guest feedback provides real-time information on what is working well and what needs to be addressed. Empower your guests to review your meal by including interactive elements that allow them to voice their opinions and offer feedback. You want to know which dish they liked best, right? Deep analytics can provide unprecedented insight into what your guests liked, and what they sent back.

* * *

Whether you are preparing presentations for a conference or for use as a sales tool, don't settle for a bland dish. Prepare your presentation like a seven-course meal and transform it from tranquilizing to tantalizing. So put on your apron and cook up a feast that will earn you a five-star review!

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Heidi Jackman is CMO of SlideRocket, which reinvents presentations by helping to bring big ideas to life, engage audiences, and drive business.