State of Start-Up Presentations

I watched the Vator Splash SF presentations through two lenses.  The first was that of a technology enthusiast, always wanting to learn what bright people are inventing.  The second was that of a communication expert, curious about how entrepreneurs are presenting.

Through the first lens, I saw some interesting technology. The People’s Choice Winner was Building Layer, which maps the inside of buildings.  The Vator Splash Winner was Front Door Software, which protects portable computers using the smarts of traditional security systems.

As the communication expert, I gathered data on the multimedia learning principles of using visuals, signaling, and full sentence headlines.  What I found is that pictures are pervasive, but signaling and full sentences are rare.

Pictures – photos, graphs, and screenshots – were used heavily in 9 of 10 presentations.  That is the good news.  Showing visuals while telling a story is the best way for people to learn the information being presented.  My catch phrase is “Show the glory, tell the story.”  The presenters at Vator Splash did a good job showing the glory.

This same multimedia learning principle indicates that bullet points flood the verbal channel of the brain with too much information, since the same channel processes words heard and read.  More good news on this front.  Seventy percent of presentations contained NO BULLET POINTS.   Only one presentation was heavy on bullet points and one on text in paragraphs.

The bad news is that not a single presenter gave an overview or summary.  There was essentially no signaling.  Signaling helps the human brain assimilate information by setting a map of where you are going, where you are, and where you have been.  My catch phrase is “Use a cue, they’ll follow you.” Now these presentations were short and many presenters may think that eliminates the need for a visual agenda and summary, but not so.

Even if you are giving an ‘elevator pitch’ you still want to give a cue or preview.  Stating your three key points in the beginning and the end will help your audience remember what you had to say, which, after all, is the whole point of your presentation.

The other pointer to remember is to put your headlines in full sentences.  Research has shown that a full sentence headline and a relevant picture is the best slide combination for learning. Building Layer was the only presentation that used any full sentence headlines – hey maybe that is why they got the People’s Choice Award.

In addition to enjoying the slew of new innovations, Vator Splash was a good opportunity for me to take a pulse of the state of start-up presentations.  Net, net – the trend is going in the right direction.  More pictures, less bullets.  Now all we need are previews, summaries, and full sentence headlines.