Don’t Build Slides Until they Pass the “Coffee Test”

Want to build a presentation that will grab attention and hold it until the end? Want to make sure it goes viral?

Then don’t build slides until they pass the “coffee test”. The coffee test comes from Robert McKee, author of Story. His advice to screenwriters: don’t spend 18 months writing a screenplay until you know it’s a winner.

Here’s how. Take your friend out for coffee and tell them your story in about 5 minutes. What is their reaction? Are their eyes wide? Their mouth hanging open? Is their coffee now cold because they’re hypnotized by your words? Then you have a winner. Go home and write your screenplay.

But if they’re bored. Distracted. Their eyes are listless, drifting to see who is coming in the door next, if they’re fidgeting, then you don’t have a winner. Go home and work on it some more.

Same with your presentation. You want to captivate your audience? Make them hungry for more? Then take someone to coffee and tell them the story of your presentation. Then you’ll know if it’s time to start building slides, or keep working on your story. (Photo © wajakemek)

About the author: Bruce Gabrielle is author of Speaking PowerPoint: the New Language of Business, showing a 12-step method for creating clearer and more persuasive PowerPoint slides for boardroom presentations. Subscribe to this blog or join my LinkedIn group to get new posts sent to your inbox.

This entry was posted in executive presentations, storytelling. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Don’t Build Slides Until they Pass the “Coffee Test”

  1. Ah, this is brilliant Bruce. Too often speakers put too much work into their presentation before asking for feedback. At that point, they become defensive and justify why they need to use what they created even if it does not work. Excellent thoughts here.

    • So true, Ethan. Once you’ve spent 30 hours building slides, you really don’t want to go back and perform major surgery. A pity for the presenter and audience alike.

      Also, if you want your message to go viral, it has to be packaged as a story that others like enough to repeat.

      I love the coffee test.

  2. geetesh says:

    Great analogy, Bruce — sometimes the difficult part is find a friend who’s available for coffee at the very moment you want them! And then one should be patient enough to hold on to the presentation before you can get someone for coffee. So yes — if you have patience, a friend, and some coffee — then you do have a winner .

  3. Geetesh – that points to one of the reasons it is important to allow enough time to properly prepare your presentation. The visual aids (in this case PowerPoint) are only one step in the process. In the model I use with clients and for my presentations, visual aids are the 6th in a nine step process.

    Yes, if you wait until the last minute to put your presentation together, chances are you will not do well. If you start with your slides, chances are you will not do well.

    Good public speaking takes time and planning. Bruce’s article points that out well.

  4. geetesh says:

    Yes, of course — time is important — I did not suggest not having time to prepare the slides. What I meant is that when you are inspired, you tend to be impatient and don’t always want to wait — so yes, patience is a great virtue.

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