Have you been subjected to talks with PowerPoint presentations that bored you to distraction?
When I notice that a speaker is going to use a PowerPoint presentation, I am all anticipation: Is it going to be interesting or boring? Probably boring. Is that not also your expectation? How often have you been exposed to a speaker who simply made you sit up and take notice with a presentation that somehow worked?
Why did he or she succeed? Well, let’s consider what needs to be done and ensure that you become part of a minority that delivers successful presentations. PowerPoint is, without doubt, a very useful tool in getting concepts across. (Note there is a difference between a presentation which is delivered in person and a slide presentation meant for mailing, reading and study.)
Certain principles need to be heeded, the main one being that a presentation on a screen supports the speaker who should be centre stage. Effective PowerPoint presentations are not condensed speeches with slides of wordy texts that your audience could read while you as speaker are fighting for the attention of those who are busy reading much faster than you can talk. Or whom you are loosing as they try to simultaneously listen and read.
A presentation is a form of marketing. It needs to be mastered.
What are the principles?
The purpose of a presentation is to persuade. Every presentation is mission-critical. You are trying to get your audience to experience an Aha moment, of getting a few ideas to jump from your mind to theirs. If they get it, they might like it and might respond positively to your call for action.
Clarity and story are key elements. When the point of the presentation is not clear, when the benefit to the audience is not vividly evident, approval is not granted and the presentation fails.
Getting your story right is far more important than your delivery skills. The story needs to be compelling and the key ideas have to flow naturally from beginning to end. When you story is not clear, if it is too long, if it is overly complex, the audience has to work hard to make sense of it. This produces resistance, then irritation, then loss of interest and perhaps even a loss of confidence in you. Conversely, you might be a gifted speaker, but an overloaded presentation will still loose your audience.
Don’t make your audience think. Make it easy for your audience to grasp ideas without having to work. An effective story leads the audience to an irrefutable conclusion; it gives them a psychological comfort level that makes it easy for them to say “yes”. A person who is able to tell an effective business story is perceived as being in command, as deserving the confidence of others.
Five cardinal sins
Have you listened to someone and thought?
1. There is no clear point, 2. There is no obvious benefit for the audience or for me, 3. There is no clear flow of ideas, 4. Its much too detailed, 5. Too long!
“I must get out of here!”
A presentation is not a data-dump. Even if you have not heard of MEGO – “Mine Eyes Glaze Over” – you surely have experienced it.
How to prepare your presentation?
Begin with your story – not your slides. Clarify and organise your ideas on a whiteboard before you open your computer.
Define where you are, Point A, and where you want to move your audience to, Point B. What do you want to achieve? Begin with the end in mind. Write it down.
Who is in your audience? Is it largely composed of specialists in your field or of generalists? What it their level of knowledge of your topic? Are you presenting at a specialised conference or a chamber of commerce? Scale down the complexity and length of your talk if there will be only a few specialists in the room.
Ask WIFFY: What’s in it for you? – meaning for them.
Do a mind dump
Do this on a whiteboard. Splat first, polish later. Don’t go for structure in this stage. Doing brainstorming releases your creative side. Get all your ideas out in the open.
Then cluster your ideas. Imagine you are Cicero in the Roman Forum. Draw a number of circles representing columns and develop thoughts for each. Walk from column to column. What do you want to say at each? Develop a cohesive overall picture.
Creativity before logic.
Do not skip the splat and cluster stages and immediately open PowerPoint as you are likely to develop a rambling, wordy presentation. Don’t do a mind dump on slides.
Develop the presentation
Prepare a brief oral introduction of two or three sentences consisting of a core marketing statement which briefly tells your audience what benefits your company/the presentation, all rolled into one, offers them. It’s an elevator pitch. It should end with Point B, the outcome: “I trust that at the end of my presentation you will …”
You have to grab their attention. Also tell them how long it will take. With this opening you place a plan and a schedule in their minds.
People remember about 7 to 9% of what they hear. Give them a clear structure, a brief presentation and a direct call for action at the end and you will heighten the possibility that they might actually remember who you were along with three ideas about what you said.
Now develop your slides
Very few people have the attention span and ability to listen for more than 20 minutes.
Of course, you will have a title slide. State on it your topic, your name, the name and logo of your company. Keep this on your screen while you deliver your opening statement.
Then show an overview slide which announces your agenda, your columns. Use this slide when you are at each of the columns, and show on it where you are. Every content slide is a tree and your audience wants to see the forest now and then – which is what your overview slide shows them.
Develop about 13 content slides – keep your presentation punchy.
At the end of the presentation, use a summary slide and orally summarise what you told them.
The last slide on the screen should have your logo, your name and contact details. Leave it on the screen for a while so that people are able to write down the details.
Call to action
Conclude with an oral call to action. What should your audience now do? From your point of view, you want to build contacts and the start relations. That’s why you presented. Offer to send to those who want it, a more comprehensive article on the topic. Ask for a show of hands. Who wants it? Then ask those who indicated “yes” to take out their business cards, to jot down “presentation” on the back and leave it at the event organiser’s table. Ask whether you have their permission to put them on your newsletter list. (This is how you build your list.) Do your follow-up personally within a day or two.
What to put on slides
• The information on the slides should support your story, your speech. Do not put a condensed version of your speech on the slides.
• Wordiness on slides is your enemy. If your verbal logic is clear, slides with few words and with supporting graphics, diagrammes and pictures will help to communicate and support your train of thought.
• Do not use jargon and if you cannot exclude jargon totally, work in metaphors in your speech to explain what you mean.
A few technical tips:
• Do not build a series of slides in which the flow of ideas is not apparent.
• Use the Slide Sorter View to see your entire presentation: Is it interesting?
• Give each slide a heading – the series of headings should tell a story.
• Use an unobtrusive slide design.
• Use large enough fonts: 24 to 44 so people in the back can read the words.
• Slide slides in from left to right – as we are used to reading from left to right
• Slide in bullets as this gives you time to open each bullet and discuss its information before proceeding to the next bullet (A fully opened text slide often is overpowering).
• Be visual and use numeric graphics: bar charts and pie charts.
• Find appropriate pictures on Google Images or use your own – if they are sharp.
Practice, practice, practice
• The only way to prepare for a presentation is to speak it out aloud. Do five dry runs at least.
• Ask a colleague to sit in and criticise you.
• Make a video of your presentation as nothing will teach you quicker to let go of bad habits such as swaying to and fro on your feet, clearing your throat with every slide, addressing the screen with your back to the audience or using a speech mannerism (OK?).
• Some presenters use the notes facility on slides (View >Notes Page).
Contact with your audience
• Present with the screen to your left as all eyes will turn to you and go from you to the screen and onward to read from left to right.
• Keep your laptop open in front of you and check your slides on your laptop screen.
• Face your audience and maintain eye contact with the audience and while you could look at the main screen now and then do not use this screen to que you.
• Work in references to members in the audience to get audience participation or to recent news events.
Check equipment and venue facilities
“Murphy’s Law”: What can go wrong will go wrong – venue-wise.
Prepare a list of needed equipment and ensure that the conference venue will be able to supply these.
• Arrive 15 minutes early, check everything and familiarize yourself with the venue.
• Take back-up equipment, especially long extension cables.
A well-developed presentation builds your confidence as speaker. Master your presentations, know that they are great and experience how professional presentations boost your confidence and credibility.
Break a leg.
PS Most of the ideas come from Presenting to Win – The Art of Telling Your Story by Jerry Weissman. Visit his website.