We’ve all seen a thousand presentations (or at least it feels like a thousand), and I’m going to take a wild guess that most were in PowerPoint and most were bad, or at least forgettable. That’s not to say that the bad ones were all forgettable – some of the worst I’ve ever seen are ones that I remember very clearly!
Presentations, PowerPoint or otherwise, are nothing more than opportunities for you to tell your story and, hopefully, have people leave with a solid grasp of it stuck in their heads. Yet, the odds of this happening are stacked against you before you even fire up the projector. Some studies show that people remember a mere 5 percent of what they hear in a presentation. Both the explanation and the antidote for that outcome are contained in this old Chinese proverb: “Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.”
This axiom is especially true for presentations using PowerPoint slides and delivered to large audiences after lunch.
You give a presentation in order to present information – that’s the “telling” part. Most PowerPoint presentations excel in this department, which is the least effective.
To “show” your audience what you’re talking about, you use slides with words and pictures and graphics. It is in this step that many presentations begin to falter because they are text and number heavy and short on compelling visuals.
But in order to “involve” your audience in your presentation, you must engage them in your story. This is the place that most PowerPoint presentations fail completely (usually because the slides don’t tell a story and the presenters stand there and read from the slides). In other words, yes, Grasshopper, to be a good presenter, you must first have a good story to tell and then you must be a good story teller.
What follows are 12 key steps to mastering the art of effective presentations.
1. Create a Story – The first job of a presenter is to create and tell a compelling story. Your slides are enhancements to your story – without the story, your slides have no meaning. Start Strong: This is where you tell them what’s in it for them and why they should pay attention. When creating your story, follow good story structure with a clear and captivating beginning and a compelling ending that drives home your main points. As much as possible, try to include story elements such as humor, protagonists/antagonists, conflict, and resolution.
2. No Bullets – Whenever you feel compelled to create a bulleted list, take the list apart, find the key points and put each on a separate slide. Bullets invite your audience to read and to take their attention off of you – the main attraction. Save the bullets for the reports and handouts.
3. Start on Sticky Notes – Don’t begin thinking about your story stuck in a PowerPoint box. Begin by getting your key points out on 3 x 3 sticky notes (different color notes for separate sections), and treat each note as a separate slide. They work great because you can easily add or remove them and move them around to achieve the best flow in your presentation – and they’re too small to cram too much stuff on them!
4. Bigger is Better – Your audience should not need binoculars to read your slides. Keep sizes BIG and bold – no smaller than 30 pt for text, mid 30s for subheads, mid 40s for headers. Use bold to emphasize key words and for subheads. And try to stick with just two fonts to give your slides cohesiveness. For headers and subheads, I like using a san serif font like Arial, and for body text, a serif font like Palatino.
5. Simple Graphics & Clean Backgrounds – Wacky bubbles, wild colors, spins and dissolves are visual clutter that can distract your audience and cause them to loose connection with you. Unless you are telling a story about Zumba-wear, it’s probably better to err on the side of dull and simple than on the side of fun and funky.
6. One Idea Per Slide – You are the main attraction during your presentation audience attention should remain focused on you and your story. As with bullet lists, when you pack too much information on a slide, your audience is compelled to read instead of listen to you, and that’s when you suddenly become superfluous. When trying to connect with an audience, it’s never a good idea to let your PowerPoint presentation become the “star” of the show.
7. Sky’s the Limit on Number of Slides – Stick with time as your limiting factor when preparing a presentation, not the number of slides. If you try to limit your slides, you will feel forced to cram too much stuff on each one. It’s much more effective to have lots of slides with less information on each, than the other way around. Try to create a presentation that allows your audience to glance briefly at numerous slides, get what they need and then turn their attention right back to you, rather than losing total focus on you while trying to digest a slide full of dense text.
8. Text Kills – And tiny text kills quicker. K.I.S.S. Keep it Super Simple if you want your ideas to stick. Say too much on a slide, and you may as well say nothing. Give your audience a few key words (5 to 8 is a good target) that enhance what you are saying, or better still, let compelling graphics do the talking! Numbers are even deadlier….
9. We’re Not All Einstein – Numbers are not easy to process – one per sentence, a couple per slide – max! A good test of how you’re doing is to show your slide to a colleague for two seconds, then ask them what they got from it. Each number is one step closer to having your audience start Instagramming pictures of themselves drooling. Not pretty.
10. No Logos – If your logo design is not a central character in the story you’re telling, reserve it for the opening and closing slides. You may just be in the wrong room if your audience doesn’t know who you are and what company you’re with by the first slide. It’s best to eliminate the logo noise altogether.
11. No Crazy Charts – Your audience does not want to decipher your slides and data. They want you to do the hard brain-work and then regale them with the story the data tell. The take-away must be crystal clear… “Once upon a time there was a dear little data point that was loved by everyone who looked at it for it showed great profit.”
12. Stick the Landing – Last impressions last, so make yours a good one. Have your story end with a bang your audience won’t soon forget. Strong summaries and calls to action work well: “Here’s what you will get.” “Here’s what you can do.”
By following these simple steps, you will not only keep yourself from falling into the death-by-PowerPoint category, you will greatly enhance the memory of your presentation in the minds of your audience members – for all the right reasons!
“Often, people come to a conclusion about your presentation by the time you’re on the second slide. After that, it’s often too late for your bullet points to do you much good.
“Communication is about getting others to adopt your point of view, to help them understand why you’re excited. If all you want to do is create a file of facts and figures, then cancel the meeting and send in a report.” —Seth Godin