You step up to the podium. Your palms are sweaty, your heart is racing, and just as you’re about to open your mouth and speak, your mind goes blank. If this is one of your worst nightmares, I might be able to help you out.
Creating a Powerpoint presentation, or slides using any similar presentation software for that matter, is almost too simple. People are able to throw together some of the most atrocious, ugly, and utterly boring presentations on the planet. And people let them. And they infect the boardrooms and meeting rooms of every industry with their yawn-inspiring drudgery. You don’t need to contribute to this tragedy. Create interesting, inspiring and information presentations and people will be enthusiastic about what you’re talking about. Most importantly, it’ll keep them awake.
So what’s the secret to giving a great presentation? Well, last year and this year I’ve had the opportunity to give more presentations than I’ve given in the 15 years since I started working professionally. It’s not easy, because the truth is that I hate talking in front of people, and I don’t enjoy the limelight. However, if you want to have any hope of being successful at what you do, you need to be able to present your work and your ideas clearly and concisely. You need to be able to get people interested and enthused.
A great deal of doing that involves putting together an interesting slideshow. Of course, a fair part of it is also how you present – where you look, your body language and your speaking ability. I’ll touch on all of those points below.
1. Be Personal and Authentic
Before I get to the Powerpoint presentation part of this, it’s most important to talk about the personal side of this endeavor. While there’s a tremendous temptation – especially at business meetings – to step up in front of the podium or at the head of the boardroom table and start preaching a formal, well-rehearsed speech, I strongly advise against it.
When you do that, you come across as a sales person. No one likes to be sold. Imagine, instead, that you stroll calmly up to the podium with your hands in your pockets, turn to the audience with a big smile on your face, and ask everyone how they’re doing? Instead of a “speech”, a memorable presentation comes across more as a conversation.
You may be leading the audience along the path through the dark forest, but the audience needs to feel like you and they are in this journey together. Crack a joke. Tell a personal story about your day. Do something that makes them feel like they really know you. Then, you’re ready to dig into the slides.
The first slide goes a long way toward helping you gain that connection with your audience. I always love using quotes – because generally quotes get people in a certain state of mind. They start opening their minds and thinking at a higher level – outside the box. The first slide should offer prompts about what you’re going to say about yourself, but that’s all they are – just prompts.
The most important tip I can offer here is this – keep the text on the slide short and simple. Don’t write crazy-long sentences. No one wants to read them! Use the slide to highlight important points, and then speak to those prompts. If you studied your material well enough and you know the information (as you should, if you’re giving the presentation), then you have nothing to worry about. Just take a deep breath, look at your prompt, and have a conversation with the crowd.
2. Ask Questions
The experience you want your audience to have is that you’re traveling down this path together. There are mysteries to be solved; Questions to be answered. If you start out by outlining those questions at the start of your presentation, it frames the content for the audience and prepares them for everything you’re about to talk about. Best of all, it naturally sparks their curiosity.
You’ve seen it at the movie theater, when a pop quiz question is posted on the screen before the previews. You can hear the audience murmuring as they try to come up with the answer. It’s human nature to love a mystery, and to be the one to solve it. So, create a mystery for your audience. Get them trying to figure out the answers, and then start leading them in the direction you’d like them to go for the answers.
3. Use Diagrams as Much as Possible
One survey, according to Forbes, revealed that most people would rather have no sex than sit through another Powerpoint presentation. Seriously. And the biggest complaint? Too much text.
The best presentations will be made up of huge, detailed, and easy to understand diagrams and pictures. In fact, I would say that you should strive to have more imagery on your slide than text.
People love to be entertained. They love to see interesting images and diagrams as someone describes what they are looking at. It’s like going on a guided tour at the zoo. You may start out not knowing what the heck you’re looking at, but by the time the guide is through educating you, you feel like an expert. And you didn’t even mind bearing 5 minutes of what would otherwise be completely boring talk, because you had something interesting to look at. That’s the biggest secret to an awesome presentation.
4. Charts and Graphs
Another way to keep the excitement high during a presentation is to identify information that really stands out. Maybe it’s data that really shows a dramatic point – a standout bar in a graph that proves your point beyond any doubt. You can say your point, and you can write it in text, but when you put that point on a graph and put it right in front of people? Well, let’s just say that those are the moments when you will overhear a few “wow” and “seriously?” comments from the audience.
When you hear that, you know you’ve hit another home run. Don’t overdo it with the charts and graphs though. Too much data can actually get just as boring as too much text, but peppered throughout your presentation, those hard-hitting points will have the greatest impact.
5. A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words
Just like diagrams appeal to the human desire for visual stimulation, pictures in general go further toward making complicated ideas and concepts clearer. In fact, you can create some of the most interesting Powerpoint slides by simple pasting a diagram, photo or some other image stretched out onto the entire slide.
As your audience stares at the image that’s filling the entire screen (or in some cases a giant, big-screen floor to ceiling display), you can use your notes to “guide” the audience through what they’re looking at. You’ll keep their interest, and they’ll remember your presentation better than most others.
I should also note that if you are tempted to show a video somewhere in your presentation – it’s not a good idea. Videos actually interrupt the flow and tone of your presentation. It transitions from you being the “guide”, to the narrator of the video being the “guide”. Following a video, there’s always this awkward silence as the presenter tries to recover where they left off – and nine times out of ten the video has put much of your audience to sleep.
5 Rules for a Killer Presentation No One Will Forget
So, just remember the five basic rules for a killer presentation:
- Be personable,
- ask questions,
- use diagrams,
- use charts and graphs, and
- use lots of images and pictures.
Of course you also have to study the material and know it well. Finally, just step into that boardroom or conference hall, take a few slow, deep breaths, and then knock their socks off.