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“Rules are not necessarily sacred, principles are.

Franklin D. Roosevelt

This quote strikes us this morning as we try and understand how one can find a balance between being stuck and breaking free.

And no, we’re not thinking of that great project called life, simply the smaller one called “working life”.

So much of corporate working life demands an adherence to standard protocols, an ability to think creatively within a given (and sometimes unchangeable) grid. There’s always a How-to, a User’s Manual, a PlayBook, a Brand Guideline, a Template…. you get the picture.

And while that old saying “you gotta know the rules in order to break them” has stood the test of time, how do we cut through the noise of do’s and dont’s that abound in the world?

Even when – rather, especially when, for this blog! – it relates to something as everyday, as essential, and as widespread as the art of creating business presentations.

By identifying the principles – rather than the rules – that can guide you towards better presentations.

To get you started, here are some that we’d like to offer from our own practice.

One: Test the rule by trying it

Till you’ve tried a given rule you’ll never know if it works – for your specific presentation needs!

For instance, as presentation gurus suggest, bullet-points are the death-knell of good presentations, does that mean you never use them again?

Clearly not. You simply find ways of visualizing them, and if you’re retaining conventional usage, you learn to do so without over-kill.

Two: Use the rule of thumb

Human beings have always used that handy tool – the thumb – to measure lengths, depths, levels – you name it.

This mode suggests a practical, experienced-based approach as opposed to a purely theoretical one.

So while in theory, each slide should be as big and bold as a billboard, how sensible is that in a boardroom? Will the clever headline in 200 points convey the details that are essential for your audience to know?

Think about it, apply the rule of thumb and then choose which rule you want to obey and which to break.

Three: Make your own rules

Yes, this too is possible – for those who know their material as well as they know their own minds, and their end objectives.

Too often, creators of business presentations follow the rule-book from a kind of under-confidence in their own capabilities.

You may not be the best visualizer but you may know your brand-story back to front and inside-out! How can you leverage that skill for your PPT? What ‘new’ rule would help you tell the story the way you imagine it? If it means reversing an existing rule – say of chronology or linearity – by all means – go for it…

(And if you need direction in that area, you may well find it here – in a post on organizing principles.)

Making your own rules allows you a new freedom – to function within a grid of your own making and the results of that can only be as freeing for the mind as it is for the matter.