Raise your hand if you’ve ever walked away from a presentation and thought, “That speaker was pretty good but man, their slides were kind of awful!”

Chances are, you’re not alone. Designing presentations that stick requires you to do two things really well: tell an incredible story and have equally incredible accompanying visuals.

We sat down with our very own Visual Storyteller at Eventbrite, Lawrence Go (aka Go), to learn the ins and outs of creating a compelling presentations for your next event.

Sara: Visual Storyteller? What is that? Tell us a bit about your background and what your day to day role at Eventbrite looks like.

Go: In my past life I was a Mechanical Engineer designing medical devices for patients suffering from blood clots. As you can imagine, when you’re deciding to stick a piece of machinery into a human body, delivering the right information the right way is pretty important. If I failed to resonate with my audience, which included my peers and senior executives, they would get lost in the technical data or not care. The key to every presentation is to very clearly answer the question: What’s in it for the audience?

Today at Eventbrite, I have the great pleasure of parlaying those skills towards crafting compelling visuals for presentations, dissecting complex information for a general audience, and generally making sure we do one and one thing only: making audiences care.

Sara: When did you first realize your passion for storytelling?

Go: If you have to know one thing about me it’s that I love movies. I’m embarrassed to admit that I own a curated collection of VHS tapes and a working (and well maintained) VHS player. Why? Well anyone who is a self professed movie buff will tell you that great movies are all about telling great stories.

In the spring of 2013 I decided to take a screenwriting class at a local community college to get into the heads of these master storytellers. This is where my love for storytelling really began. My professor, Barak Goldman, wasn’t your typical professor. From the moment our butts were firmly planted in our seats Goldman threw academia right out the window and ushered us into a world where telling a great story is how you put food on the table. One day he asked us, “What is the definition of story?” After a rendition of half assed answers he said,

“Story is when a character sets out on a journey

to do or get something he or she absolutely needs or wants

against all odds”

That was really the lightbulb moment for me. I realized you don’t need to be making a Hollywood blockbuster to tell a great story. Great stories can be told when you’re pitching an idea to your boss, teaching your peers about something complicated, rallying your project team together against challenge, or moving a group of strangers to action.

Sara: Ok, share your knowledge with us! What’s the best way to get started with your presentation, and how much time should one allow to create and prep a Go-grade deck?

Go: At Eventbrite we have an internal speaking credentialing program to give our speakers a chance to shine on stage and keep audiences iPhone’s off. The first thing we teach is to create an outline based off one of three storytelling structures:


Rather than be redundant take a look at the Slideshare below to get the skinny on these three storytelling structures. As for preparation time, Winston Churchill once said,

“If you want me to speak for an hour –

give me a moment’s notice;

if you want me to speak for half an hour,

give me a day’s notice;

if you want me to speak for five minutes –

give me a week.”

I’m not prescribing that all one hour keynote speeches be performed off the cuff (although you’d be surprised how many of them are) but the spirit of the message is that you should be prepared for varying levels of speaking time. Could you deliver your point over a 1 hour keynote on stage AND on a 1 minute elevator ride? Currently I allow two weeks for an initial storyboarding session, crafting presentation visuals, check-in’s, rehearsals, buffer for the unexpected, and plenty of time to revise, revise, revise.

Sara: I’ve seen a lot of presenters with a TON of text on their slides. Is that ok? Do you have a rule or limit for how many characters should be allowed on each page?

Go: I want to answer this using an analogy. Imagine you’re driving down the highway. Because you’re an astute driver you focus on the pavement and pay little attention to the commercial billboard in the distance. When you’re now within a few hundred feet you glance at the monolithic advert and POOF it’s gone. Do you remember what you saw? Can you recall the company or what they were selling? A well designed billboard will get your attention, convey its message, and have you asking for more all within seconds. That should be your presentation slide on stage.

When you’re sitting in the audience your cognitive skills turn on overdrive when you have to both decipher a presentation slide AND listen to the presenter at the same time. Remember, your audience came to listen to YOU not read a teleprompter. So do them a service and spread out your ideas one slide at a time. The luxury of all presentation programs is that you have an infinite number of slides. Until someone decides to charge for them, walk your audience through the story. This will naturally cut down on the amount of text on a slide. So to answer your question, no there isn’t a hard and fast rule on the number of characters on a slide, but the audience needs to be able to understand the slide then listen why it’s important as quickly as possible.

In the event that you decide that you definitely need a large body of text (for example: a portion of computer code) then you can do one thing: shut up. As awkward as it may feel, just remain silent to allow the audience to read it themselves and you can address it’s importance afterwards. Reading out loud what’s obviously written on a slide is just one way of saying, “I’m not sure if you know how to read, so let me do it for you.” Not cool.

Sara: What is one piece of advice you’d give to someone creating their first big presentation for a speaking engagement?

Go: Treat your audience like royalty. I’m not suggesting you shine audience shoes before you hit the stage (that would be a great way to earn brownie points though). What I mean is that every great speaker makes the audience their chief priority. This involves asking three very simple questions:

  • Who is your audience?
  • What do they care about?
  • What’s in it for them?

Ultimately a great presentation will boil down to that last question. Your audience has hopes that they’ll walk away with something new and insightful to their lives. This, by far, will trump any poorly made visual slides and/or delivery on stage. By solely focusing and addressing their hopes, fears, questions, concerns, and needs your presentation will achieve the coveted status of sticky.

Check out the Slideshare below where we’ve compiled Go’s best practices and tips for crafting a presentation that will leave your audience speechless!