Sparking Joy: How to 'Marie Kondo' Your Presentations

By: Mitch Grasso
Feb. 1, 2020
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As presenters, our main challenge is that we have lots of information to convey, but our audience can only absorb so much. How can we create informative, value-packed presentations without overwhelming our audience?

We can benefit from the lessons of bestselling author, Netflix personality and organizing guru Marie Kondo, and pare down our overcrowded slide decks the same way we would simplify our overstuffed closets. It’s not as easy as it sounds, however, because we’re sometimes as attached to our ideas, words and phrases as we are to our possessions. 

But keeping only what matters in our presentations and discarding the rest is essential if we want to “spark joy” — to quote the title of Marie Kondo’s 2012 book — rather than exhaust and overwhelm our audience. Here are some simple steps to get you there:

Brainstorm.

As the first step in creating your presentation, brainstorm all the concepts and content you want to include, and put them in a Word document (we’ll figure out what you need and what you don’t in the next step). They could include inspirational quotes from thought leaders, case studies, statistics, images, data charts, etc. 

Figuratively speaking, at this stage we’re dumping that pile of sweaters and coats on the floor, so we can see them all together in one place. 

Visualize your best presentation.

Next, with all your information in one place, visualize where you want to go from there. Kondo asks her clients to imagine an ideal outcome from clearing out their closets or storage areas. Maybe it’s the ability to relax in their homes, or to spend more time reading books than putting stuff away.

When it comes to your presentation, what’s the most important goal you hope to achieve? Is it to raise awareness for a specific issue, build trust with your audience, or increase sales? Also think about how you want your audience to feel after your presentation: Should they be inspired to take action? Or maybe determined, convinced or reassured?

Keep only what sparks joy.

Go through each item in your presentation and determine whether they will help or hinder those goals. Marie Kondo’s “KonMari” method suggests we choose what to keep, not what to throw away. Take a look at all the information you’ve dumped on your slides and imagine that you’re about to “select all” and press “delete.” But before doing that you are allowed to keep only the most essential items, the ones that truly “spark joy” and convey the essence of your story. This mental exercise will also help you eliminate unnecessary text, so you can keep your audience focused on you, rather than on the slides.

Marie Kondo says she can tell when an item of clothing sparks joy for a client by how they look at it. Their eyes light up; their posture changes. Trust that in the same way you will know what should stay and what should go in your slides. 

Say your goodbyes.

Just as we sometimes develop sentimental attachments to our possessions, we might also be reluctant to part with (i.e., “delete”) certain words or phrases from our presentations. But that’s not a reason to keep them. If we don’t know with absolute certainty that a word or idea will help make the presentation’s point, then we should let them go. We can thank them first, per KonMari’s recommendations, because those words and ideas carried the more essential ones with them. They’ve done their job, and now it’s time for them to go.

Discard, then tidy up.

Marie Kondo says we shouldn’t worry about folding and tidying up our things until after we’ve finished discarding what we don’t need. Otherwise, we might think, “Surely I can squeeze one more T-shirt into this drawer,” or “There’s space for one more word on this line of my presentation.” But we would be kidding ourselves, and forgetting the point of discarding what we don’t need. 

Only after we’re done clearing out what’s not needed — and we’re sure that everything on our slides “sparks joy” and contributes to our main topic — should we attend to smaller details such as customizing fonts to match our brand, adding pleasant colors or uploading our logo.

After following all of these steps, we can enjoy the fruits of our labor. We’ll feel more confident going into our presentation knowing that the audience will be inspired and informed, not overwhelmed.  


photo credit: moobin