Many years ago I began pointing to the presentation style of Steve Jobs as a good example of how to present with visuals on a large stage. Often I would contrast Jobs' presentation techniques with those of Bill Gates. Bill Gates is a man with a big heart and a big brain. I'm a fan. Yet, in spite of all his talents and contributions, delivering effective presentations — especially if slides were involved — was not one of his strong points. Things, however, started to change in early 2009. When I attended TED in Long Beach that year, I witnessed an engaging presentation by Bill Gates. Even his visuals were better than the usual cluttered and bullet-point filled slides, though they still had a ways to go. Bill's TED talk in 2009 got a lot of attention.
ABOVE: Bill's TED 2009 talk saw the introduction of better visuals sans bullet points (top photo), but the charts and graphs were way too small (bottom photos), curiously using only half the screen available and using colors with no clear reason. Still, it was a pretty good presentation.
Improvement continued: Bill and Melinda Gates (October, 2009)
In October of 2009, we began to see much more improvement in Bill's delivery, and especially in his visuals. In this presentation in Washington, D.C., Bill and Melinda Gates explained why they are "impatient optimists." They clearly illustrated in this formal keynote that they are optimistic because they have seen first hand that the investments are working, yet they are impatient because more needs to be done soon. They used a good mix of data and real examples to make the case that the world is getting better, but (1) not fast enough, and (2) not for everyone. And that's what they mean by "impatient optimists." With the help of high-impact visuals and video clips, Bill and Melinda did an effective job of showing the good news about how real people have been transformed. Telling the stories of how investments are indeed paying off and making big differences, though you rarely see this in the media, is a way to generate even more aid. The visuals in this presentation were the best I have ever seen in a Bill Gates presentation by far. (Yes, Bill is still a bit stiff and looks at the monitors too much, but it's not a bad keynote.) Watch a 6-minute clip from the presentation below (or directly on YouTube).
Sample slides from October, 2009
Here are some sample slides from the "Impatient Optimists" presentation.
Bill Gates at TED 2010
Bill improved even further this year. I love this talk by Bill Gates at TED 2010. He uses logic, reason, and structure and a bit of humor. He states the problem, the challenges, some possible solutions, and goes into just a little detail on one example, which is a storytelling example of zooming in on the particular to illuminate the general. Bill's visuals are much better than those used in his 2009 TED talk. Watch the presentation below or here on TED in one of twenty languages including Japanese.
Bill's slides where good (see below) — and his charts were simple and clearly visible — but I thought his delivery was much better than I have seen. He did a good job of only glancing at the confidence monitors (as they are called) and keeping his eyes on the audience.
ABOVE: The two monitors on the floor mirror the screen behind, there are no extra speaker notes. Bill had this talk completely internalized and was much more speaking from the heart this time. Note the time remaining (6:02) which is also visible at the back of the room for those presenters who are looking more directly at the audience.
Bill's slides at TED 2010
The slides below represent over half of the slides used in Bill's talk.
A look back at the old bullet point days
Just to give you something to compare Bill's TED and "Impatient Optimists" slides with, here are some slides from the past. Below are most of the slides Bill used in his CEO Summit 2007 presentation. This was a talk about "technology megatrends that will shape the future of business and society," but it was not a technical talk. The bullets may have kept the speaker on track, but they were not good visuals for amplifying the speaker's message.
Here are some of the visuals used in his 2005 "Live" presentation.
We can all get better
Every presentation situation is different. If you are doing a presentation for a much smaller audience, presenting without any slides at all may be more effective. For more technical talks, using the whiteboard to explain your ideas and answer question may work better. Detailed tables and charts would be better understood as handouts. You have to decide based on what your desired goals of your talk are. But what is certain is this: doing ballroom style or keynote-style presentations with bullet-point filled slides with small graphics and tiny charts is an antiquated and ineffective way to make a meaningful presentation. We can all get better. It looks we'll have to change the foreword from the PZ book in the next edition.