Everything I know about Life…

Everything I know about Life…


Russell Davies



Pitching and presenting are hard. Clearly it’s something that comes with practice. I’d love to have seen Russell in action. I suspect his presentations really stood out in the public sector.

Just by reading the book you feel your copywriting skills improve by osmosis. This was a helpful reminder that presenting is hard, so you owe yourself the time it takes to prepare - and do a good job.

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Key Takeaways

The 20% that gave me 80% of the value.


  • Almost everyone can be a great presenter. There are many ways to be great. Do you.
  • Talk about something you know
  • Don’t aim for excellence. Lower the bar. Just get the basics right.
  • Think of your presentation as a series of posters
  • You can’t be too obvious, getting one idea out of one brain and into another is a miracle
  • As a boss, give people time to prepare if you want them to present well
Author privilege and caveat (included because I like it)

I learned to present in circumstances of tremendous privilege. I’ve written with firmness and authority because it reads better - but really, it’s all hedged around with doubt and anxiety. What follows is a pile of things that’s worked for me, I don’t know if it will work for you.

Presentation Structure

Basic Structure: Beginning → 3 section middle → Ending
  • Start with a story → end with an ask
  • A strong start and finish allow for a messy middle. Don’t fuss over creating a single narrative. That’s really hard.
  • Support middle sections with jokes, images, facts and stories
    • Images should be self explanatory
    • The most compelling facts are new to the reader
    • Keep it real and relate it back to you. Use ‘I did this’ or ‘then we found this’ every few slides
Start by writing the ending
  • Start with a story → end with a BANG
  • Good endings make a demand. Demand change from your audience.
  • Endings are hard, get yours working early. If you know the ending ... the beginning is easy, the middle must present enough information to support your ask
  • The peak end rule = presentations are judged on how they feel at the most intense moment and at the end
  • Tell them what the end is going to be (at the start) OR tease the end throughout (then reveal at the end)
3 ways to end well
  • End earlier than expected
  • Sum up (author plays back a video of every slide quickly)
  • Get them to clap (a thank you slide should do it)
Make it shorter
  • The most common error is adding too many things to a slide. Solve with reduction not addition
  • Edit - ruthlessly cut
  • Write a list of what you’re not going to cover
  • Don’t show all your research and thinking (it crowds out the message)
Use lists and three’s

Tension is created, built then resolved.

  • Don’t show all the points at once
  • Use prime numbers (top 11)

Consider having 3 ideas, linked by slides, that together form a coherent point

  • Repeat the important things
  • Be either clear, concise and catchy OR free wheeling, unpredictable and magical
  • Make it memorable
  • Practical Technique: Draw slides on a plain business card with a sharpie. It restricts content and allows you to play with structure

Presentation Style

5 Writing Style Tips
  1. Use Headlines not Headings. Murderer on the loose > Todays News.
  2. Make your words short, big and clear. Use strong verbs and short sentences.
  3. Rhyming and alliteration are powerful
  4. Use common words (splasho.com/upgoer5). Remove b-list words: key, holistic, engagement, evolve.
  5. Alternating between long and short sentences creates interest
11 Visual Style Tips
  1. A presentation is a series of posters - not a document
  2. A slide is a unit of thought
  3. No more than 3 bullet points, never have more than 6 words per line
  4. Make things bigger. Use big type and short words. Make it readable and accessible
  5. Each slide should point ‘hey look. Don’t emphasise too much.
  6. Don’t have too many colours or fonts.
  7. Pictures should be big, clear and relevant
  8. Type should be big, 30pt, serif, left aligned, sentence case, high contrast.
  9. Simple charts only
  10. Caption videos
  11. No 3D, no pie charts, no animations
3 Practical Techniques
  • Get to stark, brutal and compelling with no formatting (you can stop here if you like)
  • Start with black and white only first!
  • Don’t use copy and paste, that’s how corporate jargon gets in

Before presenting

Practice, workshop and refine your presentation like a stand up comedian
  • It seems fresh and spontaneous but has been crafted through dozens of performances
  • Practice a lot, practice early and often. It helps refine what you’re going to say.
  • Steve Jobs would spend 3 months refining big presentations and soliciting critique from many
  • Rehearsal is composition - where you falter, alter.
  • Rule: One hour of prep for 1 minute of talk
4 on the day tips
  • Arrive early
  • Respect the AV people
  • Double-check the tech
  • Have a contingency - what will you do if your slides don’t work

When Presenting

  • Don’t just read from the screen
  • Be yourself. Imagine your sharing some things you collected with friends
Consider creating a personal opening you can use for all your presentations
  • Something to break the ice and settle your nerves.
  • The author plays the 21st century fox sound, then says “Hello.”
  • Vary your cadence. Slow down, speed up, pause.
  • Never speak for more than 20 minutes - if you have to, break it into two with a gap
  • If you can’t finish on time, finish early.


A cash point gives you cash. A PowerPoint gives you power.
Make it big, keep it short, have a point.
Creative industries are full of people who remove things dispassionately and expertly from other people’s work
Use words. Not too many. Mostly short.
Strategy is like food, how it looks matters


About Russell Davies the Author...
  • Currently VP of marketing at Bulb.
  • Ex-Wieden & Kennedy - arguably the best advertising agency (Just do it)
  • Clients included: Nike, Honda, Microsoft, Apple and Unilever
  • Got a powerpoint clicker into the museum of modern art
  • Title: Communications Strategist
  • Job: Work out how an organisation should present itself to people
  • Found powerpoint a great comfort to social awkwardness of meeting new people
  • A thrill of being the centre of attention and in control
  • One of the first people in advertising to start using powerpoint
  • Started personal projects just because they’d make a good conference talk (robots doing poetry)
  • Blogged about PowerPoint, became the go to person, people started to reach out to him
  • First to present on powerpoint in the cabinet office, had to have a screen delivered
  • Made people cry in pitches - the presentation was as important as the campaign
  • Presentation is a combo of performance, art, design and language
  • Started ‘Interesting’ conferences, to capture everything he liked about TED (without the expense) - before TED shifted from ‘you had to be there’ to video first.

Observations about PowerPoint as a medium...
  • Presentations are oddly private. Most don’t make it to public eyes.
  • It’s a tool for thinking, a container for ideas.
    • Each slide is a unit of thought.
  • PowerPoint’s great ideas
    • Making it slide centric - a slide as a unit of thought
    • Letting people muck about - the visuals matter
  • The space constraints of slides require content be edited and selected
    • This isn’t true of documents
    • Presentations and Documents are not interchangeable
    • Sometimes you need the rigour and clarity of prose
    • Many bad presentations should have been documents
  • It helps the presenter
    • its a presenter orientated tool - lean into it, let it help you
    • it levels the playing field, important if you’re going uphill
    • gets you from terrified to saying something
  • PowerPoint is used differently in different organisations
  • Found to be unreasonably persuasive in courts of law
  • Typically people who don’t like powerpoint are good at writing
  • There’s something satisfying about finishing a presentation and sharing it
  • banned PowerPoint so he could consume things at his own pace
Book, film and people recommendations from the author...


  • Sweating Bullets
  • Broad band : The untold story of women who made the internet
  • Perfect Pitch (Jon Steel)


  • Nancy Duarte - most influential presentation designer


  • Monsoon Wedding (by Mira Nair) , A suitable boy (by Mira Nair)