Presentation Lessons from Hollywood

I can’t get enough of movies. My ideal Friday nights consist of flopping down on the couch and watching a movie at home. There’s just something about the combination of visuals and audio that resonates with me. More importantly, it’s the strong storytelling that pulls me in over and over again, keeping me on the edge of my seat or pulling at my heart strings.

As presenters, we can learn a lot from the talent in Hollywood. Here are a few lessons on creating memorable presentations that I put together with my good friend, Jake Greene. A few are my own.

Theme is Everything

Every great movie has a theme. Some common themes for films are: Loss of Innocence, Good vs. Evil and The Power of Love.

For presentation themes, I like to think of a one-word statement that will guide the entire message, as well as inspire the look and feel of the presentation design. Is your company growing and changing? Try “Evolve” as your presentation theme. Are your app sales skyrocketing? Try using “Momentum.”

Remember, your theme is your foundation. It’s your rock. It’s your starting point. If you don’t have a theme, you can’t press forward.

Here’s a great example from my team where the theme of “Natural Habitats” dictates both content and design.

The Lesson: Brainstorm. Experiment. Find your theme before you press “Go.”

Bourne Beats Boring

It’s hard to find someone who dislikes the Jason Bourne series. It has a solid storyline and is most well known for the action packed sequences. If you go back and analyze, what you will find is that almost every scene lasts about two to three seconds, and then they cut to a new scene.

The Lesson: Create and design slides with the intention of staying on them for only a few seconds. It creates for a far more engaging presentation.

The Morgan Freeman Rule

Over the last two decades, Morgan Freeman has really carved his niche as not only a talented actor, but as a narrator. I encourage you to check out a few of his famous voiceover projects — “March of the Penguins,” “Million Dollar Baby,” “Through the Wormhole,” and many others. What you will notice is that Mr. Freeman usually narrates for two to three sentences and then pauses and moves on to the next idea or thought.

The Lesson: Similar to the Bourne lesson (but for content), you need to break your content into digestible, bite-size pieces.

The Cutting Room Floor is Your Friend

If you scan any movie library, you will always find the Director’s Cut or Special Edition of your favorite selections. Why? During the editing process, the director was forced to slice and dice and cut out some of his/her best stuff for the sake of the story.

The Lesson: Cut the fat from your presentation. You can always cut more to get to the core of your message faster.

There’s plenty we can all learn from Hollywood. Just look around you. You’ll be amazed by what inspiration you can find just in your own movie library.

About the Author

Scott Schwertly is the author of How to Be a Presentation God and CEO of Ethos3, a Nashville, TN-based presentation boutique providing professional presentation design and training for national and international clients ranging from Fortune 500 companies to branded individuals like Guy Kawasaki. If Scott is not working with his team building presentations, you will find him in the pool, on the bike, or on a long run. Scott lives in Nashville, TN with his wife and three dogs. He has a B.A. and M.B.A. from Harding University.

Read More: Connect with your audience through storytelling – an interview with Samantha Starmer of REI

11 Responses to “Presentation Lessons from Hollywood”

  1. Judith Gotwald

    More credit to the writers. Mr. Freeman is reading THEIR words with THEIR sense of timing. However, he does do it weil!

  2. Valentina Olariu

    I liked it, the parallels are good. It’s an interesting way to explain good presentation tecniques.

  3. Russ F.

    These “lessons” are worth thinking about. How do we hold people’s attention in an increasingly ADD world? And I appreciated the focus on theme and the discipline of rigorous editing/honing. However, I’m doubtful that Hollywood has the same goal that I do. I am looking for to lasting, positive change, not simply competitive entertainment.

  4. Franklin

    “If you go back and analyze, what you will find is that almost every [Bourne] scene lasts about two to three seconds, and then they cut to a new scene.”
    He means a clip, not a scene. Further, they last about 1 second each, not two to three. To the contrary, it does not grab your attention; it repels you from watching; it gives you a headache, and you can’t see what the hell is going on, nor can you assimilate the “story”, which is what I thought this article was supposed to teach.

  5. Wiseman28

    Superb. Ideal points, and 4Cs writing: clear, concise, complete, and compelling.

    Scott knows and shares the power of visual communication.

  6. bkurtin

    The changing graphics made this an interesting presentation. It is what I do frequently. Plus I use one or two sound effects to keep the audience awake and focused on the presentation. What I don’t know is how in the dickens does one convert a PowerPoint presentation into the kinds of presentations shown here.

  7. bkurtin

    Keeping people focused on presentations requires thinking out of the box. Move titles up, make them disappear, use sound effects, do not use stock backgrounds. Make the words KISS. Make ’em short and to the point. And since people today like to focus on changes…CHANGE SLIDES QUICKLY.