What’s the first thing most people do when they put a presentation together? They open PowerPoint or Keynote and start fiddling with fonts and begin copying and pasting large amounts of text from a written report.
What’s the problem with these presentations? They’re boring!
A presenter who recites information from text-heavy slide decks is not someone who is easy to listen to or learn from.
Even if an oral presentation is well-crafted and rehearsed, a bad visual experience can ruin the presentation for the audience and completely obscure your intended message.
You are the most important part of your presentation. Having you, in person, is much more valuable than sending your presentation to the audience and asking them to read it. Otherwise you could have just submitted the report and provided the audience the time to read it.
When you put so much emphasis, energy, and information on a slide deck, you give the presentation program all the power. When you’re presenting, you should have the power.
Your presentation is not about what’s written on the slides, it’s about what you deliver to your audience. Actually, more accurately, it’s about how your audience reacts to your message and how they act, think, or feel following it.
Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with deeper meaning.
Think whether you REALLY need the slide deck at all. It’s not compulsory. Craft your presentation first. Then while reading it through (on your own or with a colleague), think about opportunities where the audience would benefit from a visual cue and what that could be.
The slide deck is not the presentation – it should not be a repetition or replacement for what you will say.
If you decide that having a slide deck would add to your presentation, how do you avoid giving power to the PowerPoint?
Humans, by nature, are visual creatures. You’ve probably heard the saying “a picture paints a thousand words”. Use images, rather than words, whenever possible. The audience can take in the picture more quickly than words. Your audience wants to see what you’re talking about and a compelling, relevant image can help the audience understand your message more easily.
Don’t be afraid of having a plain, black slide in your slide deck. You can use such a slide when you want the audience’s full attention on you and your words; for example, if you’re drawing them into a story that illustrates your point.
Limit the number of words on each slide, or the audience may read the slide instead of listening to you. A general guideline is one slide per idea. You can use keywords and numbers instead of full sentences.
When you’re presenting a graph, don’t just copy the whole complicated graph from your research; instead, create a new, simplified graph, including only the information that you’ll be highlighting. If the audience members are interested in further details, they can request the complete data from you after the presentation.
Keep it simple
PowerPoint (and Keynote) have many options for how you present your information – including animations, transitions and fonts. However, you don’t need to use any of these; oftentimes, using them distracts the audience from the message. Keep your slides simple and consistent instead.
To do so, chose a simple template, a maximum of 3 fonts, and 3 colours.
Here are some further guidelines to ensure simplicity:
- Use a sans serif font (for example Arial, Calibri or Helvetica) for body text, as they are easier to read on screens.
- Use darker text on a lighter background. If your company or event uses a template with a dark background, then ensure that your text is light in contrast (white, cream, light grey, or pastels) and increase the font size.
- Avoid centering your text, which is hard to read. Instead, align text to the left or right.
PowerPoint actually makes bulleting automatic, but bullet points aren’t always appropriate for your purpose. Instead, a single quote, fact or number on a slide is often more powerful than a list of points that you share with the audience anyway.
If you are embedding a video or audio in one of your slides, ensure that this will work where you are presenting. If you require an internet connection to access it, this could be problematic. Instead, have a local copy of the file and upload it to whatever computer or system that the slide deck will be shown from.
Whether or not you use a slick deck to support your presentation, practice is key to a great performance. Stand up when you practise. Practise transitioning to the appropriate slide as you run through your presentation. Prastise using a clicker if you’ll have one on the day. Prastice looking out to the audience and not at the presentation as you deliver your message. That way, the slide deck will be your background rather than the focus of your talk.
Keep the power
By starting with the crafting of your message and presentation, rather than your slide deck, and following these simple ideas, you will keep the power in the presentation. The slide deck will beautifully illustrate and add, instead of detract, from your presentation.
One final note
Often, you’ll be expected to provide something written for the audience or organisers following your presentation. Sometimes the slide deck is requested; however, without you presenting the slides, they won’t make much sense to the reader. Therefore, you can create another version of your presentation on a slide deck (or provide a written report or summary), which includes the key points that you covered.