Presentation Lessons Learned From 2012 London Olympics

Monday, August 13th, 2012 by Simon Morton

The 2012 London Olympics has been lauded as a triumph by all but the most extreme ‘bah humbug’ observers. Whatever your feelings on sport, from a presentation point of view there was oodles of stuff to take note of:


It’s unlikely that you’ll have seven years to prepare for your next presentation but the lesson here is to make the time that you do have count. Knowing exactly what you need to achieve and when you need to do it by is key.

Even if it’s only going to take 20 minutes, there’s no point trying to fit it in when you only have 10 (download our free “How To Beat Death by PowerPoint” eBook if you’re struggling). You may also have an audience considerably smaller than the billion who watched the opening ceremony but you can be sure that every one of them will know if your preparation isn’t well prepared.


A presenter has a duty to engage it’s audience and the Olympics has perhaps the most demanding audience possible. Some very knowledgeable, some who only watch sport once every four years. Making sure that everyone knows how the scoring works in the diving or what on earth “repecharge” is all about is a real challenge. Yes, there were 32,000 journalists spreading the word, but working on a billion strong audience, that means that you should be able to present to 31,250 people effectively – on your own!

According to the foreign press, London 2012 did a fine job engaging with it’s global audience however certain elements of the Opening Ceremony didn’t quite hit the target.  Somewhere in the World, there are people still scratching their heads wondering what the NHS is, why the Brits seem so very proud of it and what it has to do with Mary Poppins or Harry Potter.

A bright but ultimately insular idea too far? Forget the audience at your peril…


Obviously sport was the key content for the Olympics but even that would not have been sufficient on its own. Without the commentary and graphics and competitor back stories giving the content meaning, it’s just running and jumping. Identifying the key content for your presentation and then giving it relevant support is something that’s often overlooked.


The Olympics conformed brilliantly to one of the most reliable rules when it comes to presentations, audiences are more engaged by a story that has a clearly defined beginning, middle and end. Overall the beginning and ending were pretty spectacular but if you look a little deeper every event, race, competitor and medal ceremony followed the same structure in miniature.

If it isn’t broken, don’t try and fix it!


Like a perfectly executed triple pike, the whole thing was delivered with efficiency and panache. With every detail taken care of, those involved were free to be themselves, do their thing and enjoy (or not) every moment. Making such complicated organisation look so simple allowed the audience to become engaged with the stories that were being created in front of them.

Like all the best delivery, the ease of the whole thing totally belied the work that had gone before…just like the best presentations.

The “Wow” Moments

We have often said that if your audience remembers one slide or animation above all else then your presentation has failed. But occasionally throwing your audience a curve ball is no bad thing, provided it doesn’t hit them in the eye.

There are 19 of us here at Eyeful Towers and I’m willing to bet actual cash that if I ask everyone “what do you think was the oddest / most surprising / memorable moment?” they will each have a different one.

  • The Queen parachuting into the stadium (sort of)
  • The forged rings rising from the Industrial Revolution in the opening ceremony
  • The building of the cauldron from its constituent petals
  • All the Spice Girls in the same place at the same time
  • Pistorius and James swopping names at the end of their 400m semi-final.

It’s an endless list and it’s a valuable lesson for those of us showcasing things on a much smaller scale. A successful presentation needs much the same input as a successful Olympics, a process needs to be set out and followed (we call it Presentation OptimisationTM) and all the hard work should be competed well before the presentation meets its audience.

Simple really!

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