Note: Our guest author for this article is presentation expert Lea Pica, who not only shares Marie Kondo's affinity for minimalism in slide design, but also knows a thing or two (or three) about how to "spark joy" with public speaking, data storytelling and presentations in general. Learn more from Pica— and access a complete tech toolkit for "disaster-proof presentations" — here.
What I love most about being an executive storytelling trainer is discovering real-world inspiration for teaching effective presentation techniques. -Lea Pica
If you have a pulse, you are likely aware of the worldwide fever pitch surrounding Marie Kondo, author of the blockbuster bestselling book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Netflix show Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. Her cult-like status has made her name synonymous with home organization. Admittedly, there isn’t a person in the world more in need of her organizational wizardry than yours truly. My “dirty” little secret is that I’m much more proficient at cleaning up presentation slides than my own closet.
But, despite my desire for a more orderly home, I’m also very stubborn and was sure that the hype was overblown. That is, until I was strong-armed into watching her Netflix show. It was the exact dosage of the KonMari gateway drug needed to create a rabid new fan. Shortly after, I voraciously binged her show and devoured her first and second books within a week. Like her legions of fans, I was instantly captivated by her methodical and heart-centered approach to creating the ideal living space. (I knew I was #winningatmotherhood watching my kids fold and thank their pants for their service.)
In Marie’s masterclass book sequel, Spark Joy, she sets the stage for success with six rules of tidying up. I committed to her process and tore through my home like a Sonoran desert dust devil. Then one day, when I found myself cheerfully smoothing the fabric of my cardigans and delightfully folding them into bite-worthy parcels, it hit me: The principles behind her 6 rules aligned perfectly with the ingredients for presentation success. Ok, let's dive deeper.
What can tips from Marie Kondo teach about effective presentation techniques?
I believe the reason why the KonMari method is so resonant here is that an organized home and a successful presentation have two common elements: simplicity and intention. A presentation slide deck, at its best, is a visual support system to help you deliver your message into your audience’s brains and hearts. At its worst, however, a slide deck becomes a digital junk drawer of disconnected words and graphics. I believe this happens because we throw in everything (including the kitchen sink) and hoping something will stick.
That’s why Marie astutely observes that “the real problem is that we have far more than we need or want.” In my observations, many presentations are suffering from a bloat of unrelated ideas that leave the audience confused, underwhelmed, and unmotivated to take action.
The vast majority of presentations given worldwide, in my experience, don’t spark joy.
For years, I’ve preached the principles of reducing clutter and embracing simplicity as taught by presentation gurus Garr Reynolds and Nancy Duarte. I realized that so much of the Marie Kondo philosophy can be applied to how you create presentations this way. It can teach you how to create clean, simple, organized talks can spark joy in the minds and hearts of your audience.
So, I re-examined the six rules of the KonMari method with a professional lens, and have translated them for you. You can view each rule in the presentation below, or continue reading.
The Six Rules of Marie Kondo for Effective Presentations
Marie wisely stated: “Life truly begins after you put your house in order." This couldn’t be more true for presenting information. A presentation that’s been properly “tidied” (or put in order) has these characteristics:
- A clearly defined throughline, the single connecting theme universally used in TED Talks
- A cohesive narrative arc and content that ties back to the throughline
- A compelling call to action
These attributes are easy to spot in a well-tidied presentation once you know to look for them. Here are the six basic rules of slide tidying sourced from KonMari herself. Note that I’ve taken some creative liberties with these rules to translate her philosophy to presentation while peppering in her signature wisdom:
Rule #1: Commit yourself to tidying up
Marie wisely states, “People cannot change their habits without first changing their way of thinking.” The most powerful tool in your presentation toolbelt is a commitment to continuously hone your tidying craft. I often hear complaints that applying presentation tidying principles is time-consuming and cumbersome. I believe that’s because for many, using the techniques to create effective presentations isn’t a habit yet. Any time we want to master a skill, we essentially want to make it a habit. A habit is a behavior that is so automatic it becomes a part of our identity.
This is a concept I learned about in a fantastic book about habit change called Atomic Habits by James Clear; I highly recommend it for incorporating new presentation skills. His philosophy is that we reap the greatest rewards by consistently making small changes that build over time. To turn a behavior into a habit, it must pass through the gates of practice and dedication, and we generally hate practicing something that doesn’t come naturally to us.
When learning how to create tidier presentations, we must trust in the process with patience and the belief that the reward will outweigh the effort. Even when it feels overwhelming, or you’re in the 11th hour of your deadline, making even small changes pays off big in the long game.
Rule #2: Imagine your ideal (presentation) outcome
Marie offers, “The tidying process represents a huge turning point in a person’s life. So seriously consider the ideal lifestyle to which you aspire.” One of the most powerful tools to create the outcome you desire, in any area of your life, is visualization. No, not visualizations like bar charts and scatterplots. I mean mental visualization, where you go inward to create the reality you desire using your visual mind.
Marie encourages her clients to envision the home and ultimately, the life they want to create. Having this vision in mind is an excellent motivational tool for them to stay the course through what can be a physically and emotionally exhaustive tidying process. It might be hard to believe, but visualization can be one of the most effective presentation techniques at your disposal. I’ll demonstrate by taking you through the following exercise:
Imagine the presentation room: the stage, the screens, the audience. Imagine yourself standing in front of them, planting new seeds of thinking in their minds and hearts. What’s the ambient temperature of the room? The buzzing sound from the audience? The sound of music as you’re taking the stage? Then, imagine your slides behind you on screen. What do they look like? Imagine the colors, the fonts, the imagery. Imagine how they support your big ideas and evoke emotions from the audience. Imagine how the visual content seamlessly flows with your words, acting as an extension.
How do you feel after this exercise? Calm, focused and, perhaps, clearer on your intended outcome? You may not realize it, but that small act of visualization may have gotten you closer to achieving that outcome. When I began visualizing the outcomes I desired, I noticed that they would turn out exactly as I had envisioned (albeit with the occasional technical hiccup). So I never stopped, and to this day, my presentation objectives hit the nail on the head pretty much every time.
Rule #3: Finish discarding first
The foundation of the KonMari philosophy can be summarized like this: “The best way to find out what we need is by getting rid of what we don’t.” In this context, the advice is to keep only the ideas and content you absolutely need to communicate your big story or make your case, and discard the rest. There are two main areas where you can discard: your content and your design.
With content, we often end up with “kitchen sink” decks that have everything we could possibly need for the next three years, but not one cohesive narrative that transmits a single influential idea. That’s why I love the Presenting by Boxes method created by presentation consultant Olivia Mitchell. It is a persuasive planning framework that guides you to create content around a central objective or theme, and all content supports that objective.
Presentation design clutter is one of the most prevalent roadblocks I see to an otherwise effective presentation. The most potent presentations master the art of including less, not more. We don’t realize it, but our presentation tools encourage us to add ancillary decorative elements that don’t add value to your content. Garr Reynold’s landmark presentation bible, Presentation Zen, teaches effective slide tidying strategies derived from Zen principles of simplicity and focus. It offers a valuable blueprint for “decluttering” your slides by removing repetitive logos, page numbers, and other unnecessary visual elements. For neatening data visualizations, my patented Chart Detox Formula can help you create intuitive graphs that communicate your message quickly, clearly, and accurately.
And what I LOVE about Beautiful.ai is that their design features ensure you won’t overstuff your slides!
Rule #4: Tidy by (content) category, not by location
“Repetition and wasted effort can kill motivation, and therefore it must be avoided.” Marie’s approach here is to maximize efficiency by organizing by room, not by category. Similarly, approaching the development and design of your presentation with a categorical plan is essential for success. Before I adopted a solid planning framework, my approach looked something like this:
- Create new slide, throw stuff on it, design it
- Create new slide, throw stuff on it, design it
- Create new slide, throw stuff on it, design it
And so on. I would end up with a collection of thoughtfully designed but possibly unrelated and irrelevant slides. Come review time, many of those artfully designed slides (and hours of work) ended up on the cutting room floor. I evolved my process by categorizing my presentation building process into: message/action, framework, content, design, and delivery.
Today, my presentation building process by category looks like this:
- Message / Action: Ensure my message will resonate with my audience’s needs
- Structure: Create an organized framework that includes only the essential information
- Content: Brainstorm and digitize my content, focusing on the narrative flow and storyboard
- Design: Add imagery, charts, and design template AFTER the content is 70 - 80% complete
- Delivery: Create dedicated rehearsal time and space for preparation
Focusing on each content category helps me stay focused and minimizes the chance of zooming around a disorganized fashion. But what do I do with ideas and information that may be important, but not relevant to the main message? I send them straight to the appendix. The appendix is the perfect “overflow closet” that you can organize even further should you need to access that information.
This process is one of my most effective presentation techniques that maximizes efficiency and minimizes wasted work.
Rule #5: Follow the right order of tidying
At first, this rule was challenging to distinguish from Rule #4 and apply as an effective presentation technique. But I realized there is a key distinction: Rule #4 is about tackling each category of work separately (rather than by room or slide). Rule #5 is about tackling easier categories first to hone your ability to work through more challenging ones. The way I would apply this is by incorporating newly-learned presentation principles into your work in order of difficulty to execute.
Yes, It can feel overwhelming to adopt and apply so many fresh techniques out of the gate. Going from easy to hard can lead you to get discouraged early on in the presentation building process, and I want you to stay motivated! My advice is to choose 1-2 techniques that feel accessible and feasible for you, and consistently apply them going forward. A good example would be learning object alignment and coloring fonts to match your visuals. Once you’ve mastered those, choose slightly harder techniques like creative imagery treatments and using animation to build a storyline. Keep repeating and building and soon, you’ll be flying through your presentation construction process!
Rule #6: Ask yourself if your presentation sparks joy (or ideas, insights, and action)
“When something sparks joy, you should feel a little thrill, as if the cells in your body are slowly rising.”
When I experience the feeling Marie described above during a presentation, I know the presenter has hit their mark. The most impactful and memorable presentations create moments for the audience. They inspire the audience to feel excitement and curiosity, or even sadness and fear. Presentations should spark a feeling. And yet, do the majority of presentations you see spark feelings other than boredom?
Here’s a helpful analogy: I see presentations as a social gathering, and most social gatherings include some element of entertainment. At a wedding, the groom doesn’t present a boring PowerPoint deck of why he’s marrying his beloved to the guests. That would be social suicide. That’s why there’s music! And toasts! And if you’re lucky, a lively battle for the bouquet! And yet, many business presentations are devoid of any entertainment value because they’re not using effective presentation techniques. It’s one of the few gatherings of humans where it’s almost guaranteed there won’t be entertainment.
You can be the one to help break the epidemic of boring presentations by seeing what your content sparks for the audience. A great way to do this is to record and watch yourself present, or deliver it to a few honest colleagues.
Ask yourself (or them) these questions:
- Did I enjoy this?
- Was I moved or inspired?
- Did I learn or grow?
- What am I supposed to do as a result?
- Or....was I tempted to escape to the company nap pod?
You and your colleagues are excellent joy-meters for each other’s presentations. Once you take them through a dry run, you’ll be amazed to learn what resonates and what doesn’t.
I’m confident that these six KonMari rules of tidying up your slides will take you from overstuffed deck monsters to clear, crisply defined and designed support systems.
BONUS TIP: Connect with your presentation space
If you’re a fan of the show, you’ll know that one of the most charming aspects of Marie’s approach is to pray to the client’s home. Before tidying, she takes a moment to tune in and connect with the home as if it is a living, breathing entity. This allows her to build rapport with the home’s energy so it can guide her through the organization process.
You can use this practice to tune in with the energy of your venue, stage, and audience before speaking. I always take a moment to step onto the stage while the room is empty to visualize my talk and connect with the energy of that space. Lastly, moments before I take the stage, I look into the eyes of my audience and mentally project a greeting. I silently ask what it is they’re looking for, and express my gratitude for their presence.
To make remembering these principles even easier, I’ve created a printable PDF cheat sheet to keep you on track during your slide tidying process. Click here to learn more about me and access a special download offer.
Let’s quickly recap the 6 presentation tidying rules + my bonus tip:
- Commit yourself to tidying up
- Imagine your ideal (presentation) outcome
- Finish discarding first
- Tidy by (content) category, not by location
- Follow the right order of tidying
- Ask yourself if your presentation sparks joy (or ideas, insights, and action)
- Connect with your presentation space
Final Thoughts on Effective Presentation Techniques with KonMari
I hope you enjoyed these musings on how you can use the magic of Marie Kondo to spark more joy in your presentations. I love examining how modern cultural phenomena can inform the presentation process. As Marie says, “Tidying is just a tool, not the final destination. The true goal should be to establish the lifestyle you want most once your house has been put in order.” Picture the presentation outcome you desire and use the tidying process as a tool to get there. I’m confident that once you begin applying the wisdom of the six KonMari rules of tidying to your presentations, your audience will be leaving that conference room or auditorium shouting Marie’s signature, “Tokimeku!” (which translates to “your heart beats!”). Because when communicated in a tidy, organized fashion, the momentum behind the world’s most powerful ideas all begin with a tiny spark.
What is the last amazing presentation you saw? Did it use these Marie Kondo principles?