With 1.2 billion Microsoft Office users around the world and an estimated 35 million PowerPoint presentations made daily, it’s clear that the value of a good business presentation should not be underestimated.
The problem is that people use PowerPoint for so many different things, they often end up creating ineffective presentations that leave their audience so bored that they walk away without having learned anything — which is bad for business. There are tons of common mistakes that people tend to make in their presentations, including:
- Unlicensed images from search engines, which could potentially cause legal trouble
- Images that are low resolution, the wrong size, or not on brand
- Outdated templates or incorrect logos and product shots
- Terrible clipart and bad animation effects
- Too much text or too many elements per slide
While most presentations tend to include data, information, experiences, and findings, the presenters often fail to translate all of that into context, meaning, story and/or entertainment. In this article, we’ll take a look at a few concrete steps every presenter can take to ensure their next presentation truly hits the mark:
Step 1: Crafting a meaningful message
Presentations usually need to accomplish one of the following four things: inform, persuade, inspire or educate. So before you start drafting your deck, create a slide for yourself that has one or two sentences describing the purpose of your presentation.
79 percent of audiences report that most presentations are unengaging and boring. If you want to create a presentation that will grab your audience’s attention, it’s important to decide on a story structure that’s in line with the purpose of the specific presentation.
First, you’ll need to study your audience: If you’re going to present well, you’ll need to let your audience influence your message. Why? Because beginners, experts, colleagues, and clients often need different sets of information, and the way you address strangers is different from the way you’d talk to friends. Once you’ve nailed down who your audience is, you’ll need to craft an introductory message that includes one or more of the following:
- A shared problem they need to solve
- A common concern they care about
- A compelling story relevant to your setting or message
- A personal struggle people can sympathize with
- A question to get them interacting (and preferably saying “yes”)
Once you have your hook, it’s time to think of the overall story you want to tell. Write the storyline so that your presentation isn’t just a blur of text and numbers, but rather an entertaining story with a clear beginning, middle, and end. Every good presentation includes some sort of movement from one place to another. Finally, if the audience just remembers or acts on one thing, what would you want that to be? Figure out your final destination and craft your presentation, so it all points to that place.
Step 2: Designing an effective deck
Here’s a little-known presentation fact: Audience members will usually only read 20% of the text on a slide. However, presenters often include way too much text in their slides, boring their audiences and making it harder to ensure they walk away remembering important information.
Presenters may not realize how often they’re using text that is repetitive or simply not necessary: For example, it’s common to see presentations with images that reflect the exact piece of text that’s on the slide — for example, a slide with the word “jump!” next to an image of a person jumping. To help cut down the amount of text on all of your slides, be sure to use a simple template with a clean design that keeps a balance between the images and text on your slides, removing text where it isn’t necessary and creating slides with solely images to provide variation.
When you do decide to use images in your slides, it’s important to pick them carefully. However, there are a few simple guidelines that can be very helpful when looking for presentation images:
- Photos that look authentic and natural
- Icons that follow a consistent style
- Images with negative space where text can be placed
- Photos with calm backgrounds that don’t compete with the message
- Images that convey an emotion or can bring out an element of surprise
In general, there are some common design guidelines that will help any deck look clean and classic: Never use more than one or two different fonts per presentation; use big font sizes so your audience doesn’t have to take out their glasses; choose colors that match your company or your images; and don’t add more slides than necessary. 20 is more than plenty for any deck!
After you’ve added in your images and reduced text, make sure you consider these questions before finalizing your deck: Will you be presenting on a laptop or a small screen? In a meeting room, or on a larger stage? Will you be sitting or standing? How large is the audience, and how far will they be from your screen? Depending on your answers, you’ll need to adjust your deck accordingly.
Step 3: Preparing for deck delivery
Once you’ve drafted your slide deck and you’re confident it has a storyline and purpose that will keep your audience hooked, it’s time to get prepared for the delivery. One of the most critical elements of any successful presentation is to practice by reading your presentation aloud to yourself beforehand and time it. This will help you get over any nerves you may have about presenting, and if you’ve narrowed down your text included on the slides, it means you’ll need to refer to your personal notes more often. As a bonus, if you seem well-prepared and not heavily reliant on notes, the audience will trust you more as an expert in the subject you’re talking about.
One of the most common mistakes presenters make in their delivery is wasting the introduction of unnecessary information and losing the audience before they even get started. If you don’t get your opening right, it doesn’t really matter how good the rest of your presentation is. Start with a bang — you only get one first impression!
- Eye contact – Too short is shady, too long is creepy. 2-3 seconds usually is best, and if you’re on a larger stage and feel nervous, try looking just above the audience. Also, don’t play favorites. Try to include everyone around the room.
- Hand gestures – Film yourself or get someone else to watch you and figure out your annoying gestures and bad habits. Fix them.
- Movement – Pace the stage too much and you’ll look nervous. Stand still clinging to the podium or hiding behind your laptop and you’ll also look insecure. Aim for a measured amount of movement, and if possible, move around to different parts of the stage or room.
- Face forwards – When you’re presenting, you’re having a conversation with the people listening, so try not to turn your back to your audience when looking at your slides.
One of the most important factors to creating an impactful, memorable presentation for your audience is to spend time crafting a sticky sentence, keyword, an overall theme or a one-liner that people can easily take with them. As important as it is to spend time creating quality slides, it’s even more important to take time to boil down your main message into something portable.
Companies that don’t facilitate presentation tools and skills for their most important assets — their highly skilled employees — are bleeding inefficiency with unfulfilled potential. Presentations have an incredible potential to affect your bottom line, so make sure you know how to create one that will have a lasting impact on your business.
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