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The Key to Successful Presentations: K.I.S.S. (Keep it Short and Simple)

To make sure no one misses these valuable tips and techniques, which are now hidden by a paywall, we are reposting past articles by Adrian Dearnell from Forbes.com. Those with an account can still find the original here.

Don’t use your next presentation as a chance to show off. That’s an audience turn-off. Use KISS. (Photo credit: Christophe Morin/Bloomberg)

Let’s say you’re asked to speak in public on a topic on which you are an undisputed expert. Perfect time to talk about everything you know on the subject, from headlines to footnotes, right?


Don’t confuse communicating what you know with showing off to an audience. Even if you are speaking to a knowledgeable audience of your peers, being succinct and to the point is going to be more palatable and memorable than using your speech as an opportunity to look like the world’s leading expert in your field. Your first objective should not be to strut your expertise, but to create a link with your audience; to present a simplified vision that is the key to understanding your message.

And the best way to do that is to throw your audience a “K.I.S.S.” In other words, “Keep It Short and Simple.”

Don’t confuse “simple” with “simplistic.” We’re not suggesting dumbing down what you have to say; it’s expressing an idea that may be complex, using clear and simple language, avoiding jargon.

Brevity Takes Time

Simplifying is much more difficult than creating long-winded speech full of jargon. As French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote in a letter in a collection called Lettres Provinciales in 1657:

“Je n’ai fait celle-ci plus longue que parce que je n’ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte.”

The next year it was translated into English by a London publication as:

I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter.”

The phrase in various renditions has since been attributed to such august thinkers, writers and public speakers as Voltaire, Mark Twain, George Bernard Shaw, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Winston Churchill and Benjamin Franklin.

We have found the most effective way to ensure simplicity and elegance in presentations is to start with the bottom linethat is, your conclusionand then backfill. This is an effective and successful method in the Anglo-Saxon world and is becoming more prevalent as English becomes the lingua-franca of the business world. In this way, your audience first knows what you will tell them, then understands how you reached your conclusion.

However, cultural differences in public speaking still can stand in the way. We find a certain resistance to simplicity among French and German audiences, for example, where the tendency is to overload a presentation with facts, figures and jargon in the belief that a clear, simple, and elegant presentation may be construed as somehow incompetent. As should be clear by now, we disagree.

KISS and Social Media

Another reason to throw a KISS to your audience is the prevalence today of social media as a means of disseminating news and messages. If you do not provide a sound bite that fits into Twitter or Instagram or Snapchat or whatever else is out there, then someone using those media will do it for you, and what is sent out worldwide will not be in your control. This is not even open for discussion; it is fact.

As Andre Santini, a former French national politician, told us, “Journalists love little provocative phrases because they create a ‘buzz.’ Is there a recipe for creating these phrases? It takes a bit of spirit, and a bit of culture wouldn’t go amiss, either. But It is a commodity that is becoming scarce nowadays.”

This is almost a call to arms, a suggestion to present your message in the most effective way possible so that it can be disseminated beyond your presentation through all available channels. For like a kiss shared between friends and lovers and even movie audiences, a good KISS is memorable, full of passion and imagination, and can ignite the world.

Follow me on LinkedIn. Check out some of my other work here and purchase my book here.


This article was originally published June 13, 2018, Click here to see all Adrian Dearnell’s Forbes contributions

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