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September 17, 2020

9 Presentation Rules to Resonate

What are the best presentation rules, you may ask. In her book, Resonate, Nancy Durante talks about how to give compelling presentations. She provides rules for elevating a presentation through storytelling.

What are the best presentation rules, you may ask. In her book, Resonate, Nancy Durante talks about how to give compelling presentations. She provides rules for elevating a presentation through storytelling.

When I think about the people I find to be compelling and excellent presenters, the common thread is that they are all effective storytellers.

Read my book review of Nancy Duarte's book, slide:ology

You’re initial response could be, I sell air conditioners. It’s about facts not a fluffy fictional story about traipsing through the woods.

Hold on – these presentation rules are not about creating a fictionalized version of the important information and message you are conveying.

Remember there are a number of ways to tell a story. Think about a successful sales pitch or an impassioned plea for a cause or even a really good stand-up comedy show.

They all involve a good story. But the stories vary according to the context of the presentation.

A good story is about resonating with your audience. Durante provides nine presentation rules every public speaker should use to successfully resonate with the audience and evoke change or action.


Resonance causes change.

Changing your stance from that of the hero to one of wise storyteller will connect the audience to your idea, and an audience connected to your idea will change.

page 22

For many of us, when we present, we make it about ourselves. How often is your first slide or first words to the audience an introduction about who you are.

If you think about it, most people in your audience already know who you are. They’ve read your bio on the program guide or on your website (or wherever else you have a bio posted).

Focusing on yourself is a waste of precious time – yours and the audience.

  • Yours because it is less time to convey your message.
  • Yours because by the time you are done introducing yourself, you’ve already lost the audience’s interest.
  • The audience’s because they are not getting the valuable information you came to share.

It is even worse if you’ve already been introduced by a moderator and you're just repeating what was already said.

Instead focus on the purpose of the presentation and your overall message. Whenever you are speaking to an audience consider yourself as a mentor and not the center of attention. Avoid breaking this presentation rule. You can always talk about yourself later in the presentation.


Incorporating story into presentations has an exponential effect on outcomes.

Once a presentation is put into a story form, it has structure, creates an imbalance the audience wants to see resolved, and identifies a clear gap that the audience can fill.

page 52

If you are used to focusing on facts and figures, it can be hard to think there is a story to be told. However, this presentation rule can be a game changer as it can help you hone in on what is important to convey.

When you start considering this approach, think in terms of the traditional story arc – beginning, middle, and end. How can your message or story begin, what is important to convey in the middle, and how should it end?

Think about alternative ways you can convey facts and figures. Does it have to be a pie chart or a data table? Can you draw ideas from data visualization methods? What is the single most important fact or figure and what kind of story can you build around it?


If a presenter knows the audience’s resonant frequency and tunes to that, the audience will move.

When an audience gathers, they have given you their time, which is a precious slice of their lives. It’s your job to have them feel that the time they spent with you brought value to their lives.

page 72

Remember the presentation isn’t about you; it is about what value you can bring to the people who are there to listen to you. Once you make the flip in perception, you are able to tune into/connect with the audience in a way that can’t happen if you are only focused on yourself.

When you speak as if you actually know the individuals in the audience, it takes the experience for you and the audience to a different level. The attendees will walk away thinking you were reading their mind and you will feel as if you’ve given value to those who listened.

Take a moment to consider the potential impact of this presentation rule.

How do you get to know your audience? Ask the program coordinator/planner about who is being invited. If this is for a conference, get a good idea of the people attending from the description of the conference as well as talking with your contact person.


Every audience will persist in a state of rest unless compelled to change.

Make sure the benefit is clear to [the audience]. You’re persuading them to change, and there has to be something in it for them, their organization, or mankind to make it worthwhile.

page 94

Changing someone’s perspective is never easy or automatic. You have to be able to convey, with the utmost clarity, your message, why it is important, and the benefits of adopting it.

Sometimes speakers get stuck on just the big picture. However, most people are not big picture thinkers or are unable to see a perspective from the 30,000 foot view. Staying at this level disconnects you from the majority of the audience.

Other speakers get too bogged down in the details of an idea like exact processes and procedures for the suggested change. This becomes information overload and boring for those attending.

You also run the risk of several participants taking the ‘but wait, my situation is just a little bit different and that won’t work for me/us’ stance and creating more resistance. When you're bogged down in the details it is very hard to address the differences of those attending.

This presentation rule promotes that the best approach is start with the big picture and then address specific questions or pain points the audience may have. You won’t address everything, but you should be able to address the most common.

Also, remember to stay focused on the overall message and how it will help those attending.


Use the big idea to filter out all frequencies other than the resonant frequency.

Keep a stranglehold on the one big idea you need to convey and be relentless about building content that supports that one idea.

page 122

Staying focused on your one idea or message is the key presentation rule to staying connected to your audience and ensuring you are moving them to take action.

With most big ideas there are many ways to address it or achieve an outcome. Resist the temptation to include all possible avenues or actions the audience can make. This makes you look unorganized, unprofessional, and less than an expert.

You may worry that the audience sees you as one dimensional because you are not presenting multiple ideas or actions. The opposite is true. The audience will see you as focused, clear, and articulate. They will understand your message and it is easier for you to move them to change and take action.


Structure is greater than the sum of its parts.

Solid structure causes ideas to flow logically and helps the audience see how the points connect to each other.

page 144

You’ve probably heard the saying death by PowerPoint. More often than not this occurs because the presentation had no structure and the person presenting mostly dumped idea after idea, fact after fact, onto the slide deck and then just read what is on the slides.

If you don’t apply any of the other presentation rules covered here, use this one always.

A presentation without structure is not a presentation. It just a bunch of ideas and thoughts dumped together. An effective structure allows you to apply the story line arc, focus on your big idea, and identify specific actions the audience can take.

There are a variety of tools you can use to create structure in your presentation. Some of the most common are outlines, storyboarding, mind mapping, and card sorting (one idea on each index card).


Memorable moments are repeated and retransmitted so they cover longer distances.

Captivate your audience by planning a moment in your presentation that gives them something they’ll always remember.

page 166

When you attend an event, presentation, or workshop nothing is better than those ‘aha’ moments. Those times when we see a better way or solution or a clearer path to what we need or want to achieve.

For those types of moments, we also tend to think about big name speakers who are talking about huge life changes. Those are not the only times where aha moments can occur or the people who can create them. They can happen with any presenter and audience.

This happens when you really connect with your audience and they clearly see how your idea or message connects to them and how it can make their situation better.

While all of the presentation rules are related and intertwined, this rule relates closely to Rule 3. If you know your audience, you can create memorable, aha moments.

This is because you know and understand their pain points and struggles. You can structure your main message around these and clearly show how your message can eliminate or minimize the pain points or struggles.


Audience interest is directly proportionate to the presenter’s preparation.

Successful people plan and prepare. To be successful in any profession requires discipline and mastery of skills. Applying that same discipline to the skill of communication will attach the audience to your idea and improve your professional trajectory.

page 190

Think about a speaker you admire. A person, when presenting, makes it seem effortless and spontaneous and unrehearsed. I can assure you that a ton of preparation and practice went into that speech or presentation. No one who is great presenter was born with that ability. These are learned skills, and anyone can acquire them.

One of my biggest pet peeves are speakers who ignore the presentation rule.

I used to work with a colleague who never prepared for a presentation. He would throw together a horribly designed slide deck and then fumble and stumble his way through it. He never came across as an expert or professional. And I was always amazed how he never connected the dots between his bad presentations and the lack of enthusiasm about his ideas.

I, too, have been known to brush off practicing. BUT, and that is a very large but, I would only do this if I was incredibly familiar with the content and developed a carefully thought out slide deck. If I am honest, though, after those moments were over, I always wished I practiced more.


Your imagination can create a reality. ~James Cameron

You have the opportunity to shape the future through your imagination. Imagining a future where your idea has been implemented will keep you inspired to communicate your idea passionately.

page 232

For any of us to move another person to change, we have to have passion for the message or idea we are conveying. To be able to show passion, we need to be able to see or visualize the outcome and benefit. Without that clear picture in your mind’s eye, it is very difficult for you to truly embrace that message or idea.

How do you create a picture or visualization? Create a compelling story with an outcome that shows the benefit (refer back to Rule 2). Telling a compelling story automatically creates a visual for both you and your audience to grasp.

Another way is to write out or talk aloud that future you are imagining. The more detailed you make it, the clearer it is to you. And then easier for you to communicate it to the audience. There are many visualization techniques so you can find one that works best for you.


Even though Nancy Durante used the label of presentation rules, they are really guideposts as you build your presentation skills. In alignment with her overall theme of the book, Resonate, each of these will lead you to being a better presenter both in the structure of your presentation and more importantly, in how you connect to your audience with your message.

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Jennifer Sharkey is known as the Virtual Presentation Specialist. Being passionate about seeing people shine and be heard, she leans into her 20+ years of public speaking experience and uses what she has learned from presenting, both in-person and virtually, to small groups all the way up to 5000 people. Jennifer draws from her experience as an associate professor, academic librarian, and coach to help holistic coaches master virtual presentations to grow their business. Her unique immersive program provides practical strategies and methods to build confidence, engage audiences, and generate authenticity and authority.

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