The Murder Board

Are you familiar with the “Murder Board” concept? From Wikipedia:

A murder board is a committee of questioners set up to help someone prepare for a difficult oral examination. The term originated in the U.S. military but is also used in academic and government appointment contexts.

When you’re preparing for an important presentation where you need to convince people to take a course of action, it might be a good idea to set up a “Murder Board” like this:

  • Get colleagues to participate in your presentation,
  • then get them to ask the most difficult questions they can to try to negate the effect of your presentation
  • list the questions
  • analyse them for relevance and content
  • work on reframed responses
  • revise your presentation
  • Rehearse, rehearse, rehease.

Presentations, Just Wing It (or not)

Henry V before St Crispin's Day

Henry V before St Crispin's Day (Agincourt)

What if you were selected for the part of Henry V and had to give the  monolgue before the battle of Agincourt – it’s only 273 words – you could wing it. Right?

Or what if the Parents and Citizens’ Association of your child’s school decided to put on a fund raising concert and asked you to sing “Over the Rainbow”. You could wing it. Right?

And finally, what if your boss said, “We need to do a sales presentation to Acme Widgets.” You could wing it. Right?

Most people would baulk at winging the first two, but probably feel comfortable with the last. Here’s my postulation.

If you performed badly in the first two, it would be very obvious to all in the audience. They could forgive you and empathise with you for nerves, but they would be scathing in their criticism if you got it very wrong and showed a complete lack of preparation, or if you read it out from a prepared sheet. (I have a recurring nightmare where I am called in for a stage play at the last minute and have to read the lines from a book). Most people wouldn’t want to embarrass themselves, so they would put the effort into being as well prepared as possible.

Yet the same doesn’t always hold true in PowerPoint presentations. A lot of people are happy to just get the slide deck out, make a few mods, add a few dot points, happily turn up to an unfamiliar environment and pitch away.

The current Australian election campaign shows that most people have a finely tuned BS meter, a finely tuned avoidance meter and a finely tuned sincerity meter. So if you turn up to a presentation unrehearsed, people will sense it quickly and you ought to be embarrassed if you’re relying on the comfort of your dot point doona to protect you. It won’t work.

Singers – Presentation Tips

rock star
So you’re thinking, what the hell – do you want me to sing my powerpoint presentation? Maybe yes, if you want it to be memorable, but then again it could be memorable for all the wrong reasons.

Singer and bands drag themselves above the plethora of also-rans by rehearsal: constant practice of every intro, outro, lick, riff, harmony, pause, feel against a backdrop of light and shade. It’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock’n’roll.

Tourist in NY: How do you get to Carnegie Hall?

Taxi Driver: Practice, practice, practice

^Emulate singers and bands – practice every nuance of your presentation.

Songs can transfix us in time – first love, being with friends, travelling overseas. They are a strong and powerful influence. One technique songwriters use is to incorporate musical and lyrical hooks.

Musical hooks are generally called “riffs”, a repeated musical phrase that form the essence of a song. Think of the major riffs from:

  • Queen – We Will rock you : just drums
  • AC/DC – Long Way to the Top: ronka ronka guitar chords
  • Guns’n’Roses –Sweet Child of Mine: Rolling Stones Magazine’s best guitar riff of all times
  • The Knack – My Sharona:  drums and bass

Because they’re repeated so often they become embedded in our minds. Repetition is important to the success of a song.

Similarly with lyrical hooks – repeated words you can’t get out of your mind from the beautiful to the banal:

  • And I will always love you
  • Simply the best, better than all the rest
  • I get knocked down, I get up again
  • I shot the sheriff (note the alliteration)

^Use hooks like repeated phrases or questions in your presentation to keep your audience engaged.

Most popular songs are relatively simple: simple in their message, simple in their communication and simple in their structure. Also each word is precious. The words in a song are required to convey complex emotions (or not) in a very short space. Don’t use superfluous words and keep your presentation structure simple. Don’t confuse your audience.

^Keep it Simple

A successful song not only has a subject, but also an angle or a theme. For instance the brilliant Dolly Parton Song “I Will Always Love You”, made famous by Whitney Houston has as its subject breaking up, the theme being the title of the song. Imagine the song without the theme lines. It would tell the story, but not be anywhere near as powerful.

^Consider a theme for your presentation to bring it to life.


  • Rehearse
  • Find hooks to engage your audience
  • Use repetition
  • Keep it Simple
  • Develop a theme

3 – The Big Picture

The maxim, “a picture is worth a thousand words” is not a Chinese  proverb, nor is it attributable to Confucius – he never said it either. From Wikipedia

It is believed that the modern use of the phrase stems from an article by Fred R. Barnard in the advertising trade journal Printers’ Ink, promoting the use of images in advertisements that appeared on the sides of streetcars.[1] The December 8, 1921 issue carries an ad entitled, “One Look is Worth A Thousand Words.” Continue reading

8 – Developing a Theme for Your Presentation


Difference Between Subject and Theme

– Subject

The subject of your presentation should be fairly straightforward to define. It could be something like:

  • sell widget solution to Aardvark Enterprises
  • say no to the Traveston Dam
  • an analysis of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No 2

It is the broad general topic you are speaking about and should be known to the audience beforehand. Just because you have a subject or topic doesn’t necessarily mean that your presentation will stand out.

– Theme

A  theme is a single idea; a continuous thread or recurring segue. It should be short, simple and memorable, up to to ten words that you repeat, repeat, repeat throughout your presentation.  It is the angle or direction of your presentation, the glue that holds it together. The theme is the one message you want the audience to take back with them. Much like theme music in movies. Very few people can hear the theme from The Godfather without being transported into the narrative.

Returning to the subjects here are some hypothetical themes:

  • sell widget solution to Aardvark Enterprises – Theme ” Our widgets never fail”
  • say no to the Traveston Dam –  Theme “Better alternatives are available”
  • an analysis of Tchaikovsky’s symphony No 2 – Theme “Russian folk songs dictating symphonic form”

A good place to use the theme is at the beginning  of the presentation, the start or end of  each  of each major point, and  the conclusion.

Questions you can ask  to discover your theme are:

What is the compelling benefit of my product, service or solution?

95% of the time we will fix your problems before you even know you have them.

What is the major effect of the problem I am presenting?

$300 billion will be spent on illegal drugs today

You can also use the “journalistic six” to develop your theme.

Good advice is not to have more than one theme – it will confuse the audience.

If you don’t have a stated theme, the audience may  ask themselves, “what was that about?”

Download Theme WorkSheet