In the late 1800s, Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto observed that 20 percent of the peapods in his garden yielded 80 percent of the peas. He also noted that 80 percent of the land in Italy was owned by 20 percent of the population.

So was born the “Pareto Principle,” sometimes called as the “80-20 rule”. It’s the idea that 80 percent of value comes from 20 percent of input. So, 80 percent of a firm’s revenues come from 20 percent of the business developers. Or 80 percent of earnings come from 20 percent of your clients. It’s useful if you want to maximize resources by focusing on highest yielding tasks.

The Pareto Principle applies to presentations. Considering the countless hours wasted creating lousy presentations, let’s examine how to get the best presentations for the smallest time investment.

Don’t Start with the Slides

PowerPoint is a time suck that often yields little value. I worked with the VP of sales for a medical device company. He was preparing for a presentation to his international sales team. He and his team of helpers had created a presentation with 60 slides on the future of the company. It was an enormous investment in time – maybe 80 man-hours for a 45-minute presentation. And he hadn’t even begun rehearsing yet.

And yet the presentation ignored his sales team’s key question: how can I make more money this year?

Slides support the presentation. But they’re not the presentation. The presentation is what you say and how you connect with the audience. Before opening PowerPoint, take out a sheet of paper and make notes. That’ll determine if you even need slides.

Start by Interviewing Your Audience

When it comes to creating presentations, the best return on time investment comes from interviewing your audience in advance. Find out what’s important to the audience and focus on that.

I worked with a team of engineers that were frustrated that the senior management rejected a proposed capital investment. “It could help us grow our business significantly,” one of the engineers told me.

But at the time of the presentation, the management team was not interested in growing the business. They wanted to save money. So, we turned the pitch around and focused on how the investment would save the company millions.

Here is the text of an email message that could have saved these engineers the trouble of having to go back for a second presentation:

“We’re going to be giving you a presentation next week in which we ask you to make a substantial investment. What are the key business objectives right now? What sort of business results are you looking for right now in an investment?”

Even better would have been to call the decision makers and ask the same questions.

Prepare for Q&A

You can have the best slides in the world and your presentation will still stink if you can’t answer questions well. On the other hand, if your slides are hideous, your presentation will be great if you handle all questions well.

I urge my clients to write down 20 questions they might get during the presentation. Nothing impresses like handling all questions without a hitch.


Here’s a question I get a lot. “What’s the easiest way to improve my presentations?” My answer is one word: “Rehearse.”

I’d trade an hour of rehearsal for an hour of messing with slides any day.

Joey Asher

Joey AsherJoey Asher has worked with thousands of business people helping them learn how to communicate in a way that connects with clients. His new book 15 Minutes Including Q&A: a Plan to Save the World from Lousy Presentations” is available now. He is also the author three previous books including “How to Win a Pitch: The Five Fundamentals That Will Distinguish You from the Competition”, “Selling and Communication Skills for Lawyers” and “Even A Geek Can Speak.”