After a long siesta, we’re re-awakening our expert interview series with an industry heavyweight! Chantal Bossé is an international leader in the presentation community. She has an expansive breadth of knowledge covering all aspects of presentation creation and delivery, and she’s recognized as one of a handful of Microsoft North America PowerPoint MVPs. She’s also about to publish a book! I spoke to Chantal about her career journey, her sources of inspiration within the presentation community, and her upcoming book.

Hi Chantal. It’s lovely to meet you!

You’ve worked in a variety of industries from computer science to telecoms, and, for the past 10 years in a row, you’ve been one of only 17 Microsoft North America PowerPoint MVPs. All this has culminated in you writing the PowerPoint and presentation theory masterclass book Microsoft PowerPoint Best Practices, Tips, and Techniques’. What’s your journey looked like over the years?

I’ve had a very unusual path through my professional life because it all started with a bachelors in biochemistry. Thinking through that time in my life, I realize that all the presentation coaching I’m applying now began with a scientific seminar I had to create and deliver during my bachelors. I’d either pass or flunk my bachelors because of that seminar. And I was terrified of public speaking at the time. But, I got through it.

I came out of my bachelors and joined a telecommunications company where I’d had a student job during the summer. There I did various jobs touching on customer service and marketing until I went full steam into customer service. And then I joined the training department. During those years I really got into developing training, content, and training the trainers so that they could train new hires.

And it went on from there. I joined another company where I was doing the same thing, but I went deeper into instructional design because I was delivering more technical courses. After a while, I got to peek back at my scientific background going into pharmaceutical. I was in between the Marketing and the Scientific and Regulations departments to make sure that all the leaflets and the patient instructions followed government regulations. That was interesting.

I created my business CHABOS in 2004, firmly believing that there must be something I could do to make presentations better. Because throughout my training, development, and instructional design I was building PowerPoint presentations. In the mid-90s PowerPoint decks were usually just walls of text. I was the first one battling with my instructors and experts, telling them, you know what, there’s no point in putting all your text there. Let’s put some more visuals. So I guess it was a sixth sense for me. I started to get the hang of PowerPoint. I was doing animations and triggers way before people thought it was cool!

Then I was lucky enough to find the Presentation Summit in 2005 – it was my first industry conference. And that’s where I learned even more. I was convinced that I was able to do great presentation work with the new knowledge. I got to know people there – some MVPs and some Microsoft people. They realized that, hey, she’s doing good things. That’s why in 2013, I was honored to receive the Microsoft PowerPoint MVP award. I’ve been keeping that honor every year since then.

I also got to be a presentation coach for some TEDx events. I coached a few people and got some amazing results with them, applying the same process with them that I had learned for myself. But now I had more tools. I was inspired by so many great people in our industry. Nancy Duarte’s book Resonate resonated with me, pun intended. Particularly the way she helps people understand the structure of presentations. I usually refer many of my clients to that structure to help improve their presentations.

I really jumped into training when I started recording courses with LinkedIn Learning in 2019 for their French catalog (courses are only available with French language selected at this time). I do a lot of Microsoft 365 training as a trainer partner for various organizations. Presentation and coaching work is typically for the highest stake presentations. That’s where I do my best work. So as you can see, I haven’t been trained per se in communications, but through the years I’ve learned a lot because of the great people in my industry.

That’s quite a journey! 

It is!

As well as training clients on presentation creation we also do a lot of presentation skills training. It’s really important because you can teach someone how to make a lovely presentation, but the art of presenting is quite separate to that.

It is. I’m thinking back to the two most memorable speakers I trained for a TEDx event. One was a brand new speaker. She had never set foot on stage before. Young woman, at the beginning of her 20s. I called her and said, “Congratulations, you’ve been selected to speak at the event.” She said “Oh my gosh, I’m scared to death. My only goal was to submit my idea. That was a win for me. Now you’re telling me I’m going be on stage? I’m freaking out!” But I was able to help her move forward and show her that her story was important. That’s the only thing that counts.

The other speaker was very different. He’d been speaking for many years, so he was wondering how a presentation coach could help him. I said, “You have a great story, are you willing to be pushed out of your boundaries?” He said he was up for the challenge, so we applied more advanced presentation techniques. And he said, “For crying out loud, you’ve been making me change my structure and my ideas so many times.” I said, “That’s the point. Because when you’re on stage, you will own your story.”

Both of them nailed it and got a standing ovation. They embraced the process and it made me realize that what I was doing with speakers works, whether you’re a newbie or an experienced presenter.

That’s amazing! So you’re helping all these people get out of their comfort zone and be more confident when presenting. But you mentioned earlier that like the vast majority of people, you used to find presenting quite scary. When was the moment when that all changed? Did a light suddenly turn on or was it gradual?

In my teenage years, I was really shy. Being called upon at school made me go beet red. My turning point was a university seminar. I was really scared because they told us we would present for 20 minutes in the auditorium in front of 200 of our peers and any other people with a scientific background in the university. At the time we didn’t have computers, we only had those old-school overhead projectors. I had the fear I would just freeze and forget what to say. Intuitively I started redrawing the most important visuals from my research on transparent projector sheets. I figured those visuals would be milestones during my presentation, helping me remember. Redrawing everything helped me create the information I wanted to transmit to everyone.

The big turning point was when I realized that I aced my seminar and got an A. It helped me realize I was as good as others speaking in public, I just needed to work on my self-confidence. And then going back into communications and being asked to train others, I repeated to myself, “I’m only there to help them move forward.” Forcing my brain to think that training was a conversation to help people move forward and learn. That’s probably the rest of my turning point.

What a transformation! I guess part of that was realizing it’s OK to be nervous. No one is going to be so confident at the very beginning of their journey, are they?

Usually, the people that do a better job presenting are a bit nervous, whether it’s a huge conference or a training event. When people say “I’m never nervous”, I almost want to say BS. If that’s the case, you don’t care enough about the people in front of you. People don’t like to use the words nervous or stressed. But what about those little butterflies in your stomach? If you have that, at least it makes me realize, OK, you care enough about what value you’ll deliver to the people in front of you, whatever the type of presentation. Some people might not agree with me, but the best results are usually achieved when people care enough to have those little butterflies. They’re not stressed, but just a little bit jittery because they want to deliver great value. And that’s when the magic happens.

That’s a great way to look at it! It’s all about harnessing and channeling that nervous energy.

So you’ve managed the outstanding achievement of being a PowerPoint MVP for the past 10 years in a row. What does being a MVP mean to you?

It’s a great honor. First, because it recognizes my work as a professional and that I contribute a lot to my industry. That’s one of the objectives of the program. The community can count on MVPs to help them learn even more about Microsoft software. At the same time, this recognition has also brought enough credibility that people come to me as new clients, realizing that if I’m recognized by the PowerPoint and Microsoft team, then I might be valuable to them too.

Another important thing for me is being able to have a great discussion with developers, and I must say that the PowerPoint developers are a great team. Through the years they’ve shown us so much trust. Sometimes they’re not even sure if a new feature will be an improvement. But they test it out on us, and that means the world to us. We can say, “Well, from what we know in the field with the end users that might be useful.” Or sometimes we challenge them a little bit and say, “Do you realize that users do it this way?” So we’re there to help improve the product by pushing information from end users to the developers. And that connection to the developers gives us access to great information, even sometimes helping us debug what’s happening with our clients.

The third part is having such a great community to bounce ideas off. Just being able to reach out and say, “Hey, I’m trying this, but it’s not working.” Or, “I have this thing I’m stuck with. What do you think about that?” We’ve been helping one another so much through the years.

That’s quite amazing, to have such an intimate connection with the PowerPoint and Microsoft 365 teams. It also seems like the whole community aspect of it, mentoring the public and also engaging with the PowerPoint community, is very important to you. Does this community ethos feature in your upcoming book ‘Microsoft PowerPoint Best Practices, Tips, and Techniques’?

It does because I’m here thanks to the great community that has surrounded me through the years. They’ve learned from me and I’ve learned from them. My target readers are regular business people that don’t have a creative team, might not have IT support on hand to help them, and maybe don’t even have a training department. Through the book, they’ll learn to plan, create, and deliver impactful presentations. Within all these chapters I also included so many great tools that have come from my community. For example, Nolan Haims’ The Better Deck Deck or Julie Terberg’s and Echo Swinford’s Building PowerPoint Templates. If you want a robust template, that’s where you go. In the book I’m showing my readers the basics, but then I refer them elsewhere to get more advanced technical knowledge. I refer to articles, products, and services from my peers. And I do have a chapter about add-ins. I include a few add-ins that are high value and that I can guarantee are secure for readers’ computers. That’s why I chose BrightSlide and BrandIn from BrightCarbon. I also talk about Neuxpower’s NXPowerlite and Slidewise, Build-a-Graphic from Mike Parkinson, and Steve Reinsberg’s THOR and PPTMerge. As you can see, the community has been important in my journey, and there’s a whole industry that can help my readers.

We’re very honored to feature in your book. It seems like this is your way of giving back to the community that’s given you so much over the years.

It is. I wanted to make sure that my readers recognize it takes a whole community to help you improve, and to empower them discover great people that can help them out. All the people I recommend in the book do presentation work of some sort, but I don’t consider them competitors. We’re all different in the way we do business. I actually consider them my colleagues because sometimes we refer people to each other.

Are you able to share one of your favorite tips from the book, or is that too much of a spoiler?

Oh, let me think about that one…I think the book is so different from others because it takes you on a journey. If you’ve never made a presentation then you’ll be taken step by step through planning and structuring. Or if you have a presentation but you know it could be better, then you’ll learn how to restructure it. You’ll learn about all the cool stuff that’s in Microsoft 365 to help you reduce your creation time. Sometimes people say I don’t have time. Well, in ‘Microsoft PowerPoint Best Practices, Tips, and Techniques’ you’ll learn how to do it more quickly by using all of the great tools that are available today. There’s so much great AI that’s now available in Microsoft 365. So you could say that my favorite tip is leveraging the AI features that can help you create content quickly.

Oh yeah, there’s a whole world of ways to boost your productivity natively in PowerPoint. And then with add-ins like BrightSlide and BrandIn there are so many ways to make everything you’re doing a lot easier and more efficient.

Yes, there are so many great tools and they just keep improving. The book will be a picture in time of these great features. I think users need to get acquainted with the process of keeping an eye out for all the new features. Of course, people that are uncomfortable with change might not like it as much. But with technology, you need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Maybe that’s why writing this book is so dear to my heart. Because there are people that don’t want to be searching YouTube forever, that don’t like to get all their information from short videos. I’ve encountered people like this quite a few times in the past year and a half. Some of my LinkedIn Learning learners have asked, “Hey, do you have a book? Do you have written stuff about your course?” It made me realize that there are still many users that prefer to have some quiet time, either with a PDF, an eBook or an actual paper book. So why not? My book will be fixed in time, but it’s better than my readers not having access to content that will help them move forward.

You mentioned getting comfortable with being uncomfortable because things are constantly changing. Looking towards the future of PowerPoint, do have a wish list? Are there any features that don’t exist yet that you would like there to be?

PowerPoint has been my go-to for so many things. If I had that little magic wand, I would probably like to have extra features that help people create documents within PowerPoint. It is possible to do it now, but most users have problems using the grids, the rulers, and the guides. So having something that’s more user-friendly would be great.

Also on my wish list would be tools to help users create a PowerPoint file that will serve their delivery needs and their document needs more easily. Yes, we do have various masters, but right now it’s challenging when we need the notes for the speaker but would also like to create a handout with more text for participants. We must trick the interface to do it. So being able to do that in an easier way would serve the end user.

Anything that that helps to plan, create, and deliver presentations will always serve end users. But the two I mentioned would be a great improvement. They probably will surprise us with some things in the future because they’ve been doing amazing things lately.

Thinking more about the future, I’m sure you’ve found with your clients that since COVID there’s been a big shift in how people present. Before, a lot of the time in the business world presentations were delivered in person. But now we’re seeing more and more clients come to us asking for presentations which will be delivered remotely, or asking for online presentation training. How do you help your clients feel a bit more relaxed presenting online? Because it can be quite an alien environment for someone who’s used to always presenting in person.

For people that are experienced presenters, I think the only way for them to get more comfortable is to get a grasp of all the technology. I know it’s not always easy, depending on deadlines, but, trying to get a hold of the technology first will help.

Also, there’s my rule of thumb that the less text you have and the bigger that text is, the easier it is to adapt your file whether you’re presenting online or in a venue. Online you have to keep in mind that people might not have a very large screen. They might be on a tablet, or they might be on their smartphone. So your slides need to be very clean, with few words on them and bigger text. Also trying to avoid a lack of contrast and all these other things that we’ve been talking about for many years. These are even more important now that people are attending presentations on very small screens.

Exactly. It’s about reinforcing all the presentation theory that we’ve known about for years. Like not having too much text on a slide, having good contrast, and making sure the visuals stand out. When you condense a presentation down into such a small image, these things are even more important, as it’s a lot easier to lose the message, isn’t it?

It sure is. One thing I’ve been telling all my clients for years is, let’s bust this myth that you need to restrain yourself to X number of slides. If you have to speak for 15 minutes and you have 5 slides it means you have 3 minutes on each slide. But if you spread your content across 15 slides, or even across 30 slides, is that really a problem? You’ll have less content on each slide, so you’ll spend less time on each of them. You’ll have a better rhythm and flow. I tell my clients, why do our TV ads appeal to so many people? Because the visuals change regularly. People will get more comfortable with presenting like this when they realize, I have a visual, I have just a short spiel to say related to that visual, and then I change slide. Our brains work better this way because we don’t need to remember so much text for only one slide.

Coming back now to the presentation community. I’m sure we all have days where we’re lacking inspiration; with storytelling, visualization, design, or whatever it might be. Where do you go to look for inspiration, to see what’s next, and to find ways to keep presentations fresh and modern?

I usually go to all of my MVP peers’ websites, because this is how you get the latest and greatest. If I think about design I will go to my friend Julie Terberg’s site. There’s you all at BrightCarbon because your branding is so strong and you have all those great tips. We have Taylor Croonquist from Nuts & Bolts Speed Training. – very speedy stuff. And of course Nolan Haims, Dave Paradi and Mike Parkinson. All these people, and even more I haven’t mentioned here, have their own little ecosystem. And that’s how I get inspired in my industry.

But people that want to get inspired must also have a look at nature and architecture. When you’re outside or you’re visiting some places just stop a little bit, have a look, and let your surroundings inspire you. What has nature done? What did that builder do in terms of colors and matching of shapes? We’re in such a fast-paced world where it’s so easy to forget to stop and breathe and look at what’s going on around us. And that can be very helpful.

Absolutely. It’s really important to remember to step back from everything and take a break. Go for a walk, look around you. Who knows where you might get inspired.

Just before we finish – if you could travel back in time and give yourself one piece of advice when you were starting out in the industry, what do you think that would be?

Don’t stress out on everything. Just believe in yourself. I was always underestimating my capacities, “Am I worth it? Do I belong in this industry?” When we’re younger, we tend to compare ourselves to others so much. We think, “I don’t belong in this group. I don’t know enough. I’m not good enough.” That’s not true. We just don’t know it at the time. And that’s true for all industries. We just need to have a little bit more confidence in ourselves that we can accomplish many things, and that what we have to share has a lot of value.

That’s truly a great piece of advice.

Thanks so much, Chantal. It’s been an absolute pleasure. We’re all very much looking forward to reading Microsoft PowerPoint Best Practices, Tips, and Techniques.

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Roberto Padovani

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