It really isn’t PowerPoint’s fault

Presentations suck? Let’s be honest, your presentation software is not the problem.

Reality Check

We all have to do presentations
They are an essential part of doing business, used internally and externally across almost all organisations. They are how we win business, persuade peers and are a default for communicating information to others.

We don’t love software like PowerPoint (because we blame it for doing it’s job)
PPT presentations are quick and easy to put together, based on pre-defined templates and easy access to the horrors of clip art. Then once we’ve smashed it together we go and inflict the laziness of our process on other people.

The solution isn’t a better tool
Good presentations are thoughtful, impactful, clear and useful. That comes from us, not from the software we use to project it.

Expectations are low
‘Death by powerpoint’ is a standard phrase in many organisations. Experience robs us of hope. Imagine the impact a really good presentation has. It’s not that hard and it’s always worth it.

Fundamentals

It’s all about you
Presentations are important, as they say people buy from people, if your audience like you and trust you they are more likely to take on board what you are saying and view other information from you positively, like an RFP. Not to pile the pressure on, but you want to get this right.

Or possibly, them
Maybe you aren’t selling anything, maybe it’s a safety brief, life-changing content, a warning of catastrophe or opportunity. If it’s something they really need to know then you need to be sure you get your point across. In which case you are going to need to grab their attention, keep it and engage them with your content. So, it’s still all about you.

It’s definitely not about your slide deck
What’s on the screen should compliment what you are saying, it should reinforce it, or signpost where you are in your presentation. The screen shouldn’t dominate beyond the moment that the screen changes. It is context to your presentation, not the presentation.

Start right

Know your audience
Not just what they are turning up to hear, but as much as you can possibly discover. And don’t forget to find out how many people you are talking to. This changes how likely is it to be broadcast vs. conversational. If it can be a conversation, make it a conversation, but make it a conversation you control. Ask questions, invite responses.

Know what you want to achieve
What are the key points you want the audience to know at the end of your presentation? What do you want them to do in response to your presentation? If you are not presenting information that people will benefit from, don’t bother, send an email, they can ignore that much more easily and they will be less upset that you interrupted their day.

Be (or become) a subject matter expert
Do not wing it. We aren’t always asked to present on things we know, that just means that we need to put the effort in to learn it. Really get under the skin of it. Know your subject.

Know the constraints
How long have you got? What technology is available? There is no point spending time doing an amazing deck if you aren’t going to have access to a screen. It does happen.

Do not start in PowerPoint
Or Keynote, or Prezi or whatever else you use. The templates will force you to write in a certain way so start with paper, or Post It notes. Get everything you want to say down, then group it, then order it. Presentation software is the end point of the process, not the start.

Create an outline
Make it as much of a story as you can; work out the start, middle, and end. People retain narrative much better than standalone facts, create context wherever possible.

Be brutal with your content
Cut it down, right down, wherever possible reduce the number of words.

Cut it down, reduce the number of words.

Be yourself
Authenticity comes from being yourself, as far as possible tell your ownstories.

Make better presentations

No slideuments, ever.
This is not a document, if you end up with 100’s of words on a slide you are creating a document, not a presentation. Think about the purpose, the medium and how you would feel if someone ‘presented’ a full RFP to you.

One point per slide
Key fact, not bullets. Assertions work better as a sentence. Not a bullet point.

Design for the person at the back of the room
Use a large font size, minimum 24 but normally larger.

Alignment
Put things in the same place, things that move all over the screen are distracting, and annoying

Use imagery
But make it relevant. Do not use clip art. Ever. Sorry. But no.

Create emphasis
Colour and text size helps.

Cadence
Move rapidly, the cost of a slide is zero, you can afford lots of slides, as long as you move through them quickly.

Try and surprise (a bit)
Have a story, make it simple, easy to follow, but not obvious — twists and turns, unexpected honesty, or something that derails the narrative, will keep your audience engaged. Speak from experience.

Make yourself a better presenter

Rehearse
Practice, present to the cat, to the dog, to a colleague if they will sit still long enough. Know your timings, know what you are going to say. You aren’t learning a script, you are learning the story, telling that story well depends on rehearsal.

Make it your own
Try not to give other people’s presentations — it is really really hard unless you know the same stuff backwards. When giving the company presentation find a way to say it in your own words. Again, rehearse it, take ownership of it, make it yours, even if you didn’t create it.

Don’t make them read the screen

And don’t ever read off the screen
People read faster than you speak, so if the copy on the slide is the same as the words you are speaking they are only two interpretations, a) you are dumb because it took you long to say what they have already read b) you are entirely surplus to requirements.

Don’t point out mistakes
Something didn’t work? Ignore it. They have never seen your presentation before so they don’t know that static image was supposed to be a video. Unless you are showing your holiday snaps by accident, the chances are they won’t know until you tell them!

Enjoy it
The benefit of putting in the work is that you can enjoy the experience. You are a subject matter expert, talking to people who will benefit from what you have to say in a way that you have made engaging through all your hard work. That’s a good place to be.

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This was adapted from the script that supported a presentation on presenting given earlier this year.

processstrategy


Jay Nicholl

Strategy Director


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