When I initially read 15 Minutes Including Q&A: A Plan to Save the World From Lousy Presentations, I enjoyed it and thought it was a good book. It was only a few days later, sitting through yet another tedious vendor briefing, when reread it and truly appreciated how awesome a book it really is.
Author Joey Asher’s premise is quite simple and intuitive: if you as a salesperson (or anyone trying to get a message across) can’t state your case simply and succinctly, no one is going to get it or care. He notes that a major problem is that far too many salespeople and speakers waste their time on areas they think is important; but not on what the attendee wants to hear.
Asher notes that every day, businesspeople bore listeners with presentations that ramble on, make no clear points and fail to address the attendee’s key concerns. His book lays out a plan for eliminating lousy presentations.
The introduction asks the basic question, why do most presentations stink? The answer Asher gives is that they ramble on, fail to make any points, try to say so many things that they become unwieldy PowerPoint death stars with no impact and ignore key audience concerns.
Asher’s answer to the problem is this: keep the presentation short; leave ample time for Q&A and work to get a compelling dialogue and interaction with the attendees. That is the premise of the first two chapters.
The book is divided into 3 sections. Part 1 is about preparing a seven-minute rifle shot presentation. In essence, tell your entire story in about seven minutes. While counterintuitive at first; the book shows how this can be achieved.
The focus of chapter 3 is to start by focusing on key business challenge. Asher warns against starting a presentation by giving a bunch of background information about the approach. In addition, don’t tell the history of the project or do anything other than shine a light on the attendee’s key problems. He suggests using short stories to succinctly illustrate the issue. Just think of how many presentations you have been in where the speaker did not get to the point until 25 minutes and 20 slides into the presentation.
Chapter 11 is titled creating slides to support your message. The book astutely notes that preparing presentations has to a large part become an exercise in preparing PowerPoint slides. The reality is that it should be an exercise in figuring out how to tell your story. Asher notes that if you want to use slides well, you should only prepare your slides after you have figured out the story that you plan to tell your audience. The failure of many presentations is that the PowerPoint drives the story and not the other way around.
Part 2 is about allowing listeners to fill in the blanks and raise questions with Q&A. Asher suggests in chapter 12 to make Q&A a major part of your presentation strategy. He notes that Q&A allows the audience to guide the message and fill in missing information. It also gives the speaker the chance to persuade by responding to objections. And finally, it improves the speaker’s communications style.
While he may not realize it, Asher has uncovered what is the Achilles heel of many project problems and failures. It is that the salesperson sells an obtuse problem to a clueless customer who is oblivious to what they want or how they are going to deploy the solution.
The beauty of Q&A is twofold: first, it requires the salesperson to clearly articulate what they are selling, and the customer to articulate what their specific problems are. The answer should be a clear understanding of the issue and how the product can solve it. But the reality is that many companies will deploy expensive hardware or software solutions (often costing millions of dollars) without really understanding why they are embarking on such a venture.
The book concludes with part 3, on delivering the presentation with intensity. Part 3 moves away from the PowerPoint and into areas such as eye contact, voice energy, rehearsal and other important points. These are critical areas as even the best presentation delivered without intensity can turn into a fruitless endeavor.
While the title 15 Minutes Including Q&A: A Plan to Save the World From Lousy Presentations may border on hyperbole, the reality is that the term death by PowerPoint is a real problem. The book shows a clear path in which to stop that. At 104 pages, Asher writes like he talks, clearly, succinctly and to the point. For many people, it is only after reading this important book when they will truly understand how much of their lives are wasted in by viewing pathetic PowerPoint’s and listening to rambling sales monologues.
The truth is that Asher’s points don’t have to be limited to PowerPoint presentations exclusively. Be it e-mail messages, memos, status reports, proposals and more; if you can get to the point, and get your point across, you are often more likely to succeed.
At $7.95, the book is about as inexpensive as they get, which means you can also give ample copies to numerous people in your organization. In fact, it should be required reading to anyone who will be using PowerPoint and giving presentations.
Ultimately, the value of 15 Minutes Including Q&A: A Plan to Save the World From Lousy Presentations is best summed up by Scott Leslie who suggests that one keep extra copies of this book in their briefcase at all times. Next time you're forced to listen to someone laboriously narrate bullet points, quietly slip a copy in the presenter's briefcase without them noticing and sign it: Thought you might enjoy reading this. That way, maybe your audience will enjoy your next presentation.
Reviewer Ben Rothke is the author of Computer Security: 20 Things Every Employee Should Know