In this day and age it seems that everyone loves creating a “PowerPoint.” I can’t tell you how many times I hear someone say “I’ll just create a PowerPoint for that” or “Can you make a PowerPoint for that meeting?” Really? You want to create a PowerPoint to discuss the changing demographics in the region from 2000 to 2010?
Sounds simple enough but then I sit in a meeting with nothing but PowerPoint slide after PowerPoint slide filled with boring text. Text, I might add, that the presenter is reading out loud while I’ve already read the tiny print on the slide silently to myself three times. Meanwhile I totally missed any little tidbits of information that the presenter added that wasn’t on the slide!
Or would you rather create a presentation where the audience really listens to you, doesn’t have to read-along on the slide, and goes away actually learning something? Wouldn’t you prefer this if you were in the audience? I know I would!
I’m guessing you’ve heard of “death by PowerPoint” but do you really want to live by that motto as a presenter? Of course not. So let’s start with some basic principals. Here are what I call the three golden rules of presenting. Think of them as Standard Operating Procedure:
It sounds so easy but this is often the hardest thing to do. When presenting think about what it is you want the audience to walk away with. They can remember at least three main points. And within those three points you can use about 3 different facts to back up each. Just remember the power of three.
So far I’m only talking about the content of your presentation. The “PowerPoint” should enhance what you have to say, not detract from it. If you need speaker notes, do NOT make more bullet points on a slide, use some index cards. Yes, it’s “old school” but very effective.
I once gave a presentation at huge conference (about 20,000 attendees). My part was just 10 minutes during the plenary session. I was on stage with a veteran of this presentation and one of the biggest things I learned from him was the use of index cards. He preferred the larger index cards, 5×8 inch, and even used color to organize them. I followed his lead and after 3 days of rehearsing found that my cards had gone from having most of my speech written on them verbatim, to just some quick bullet points to keep me on track and within the time limit.
PowerPoint also has a “presentation” feature where you can type your notes into the “notes” area of the slide and view them while presenting in this mode. I’ve found this to be a little used feature but you may want to explore it if you prefer reading from the digital screen.
So let’s talk about the PowerPoint presentation. As I wrote earlier, it should be an enhancement to your presentation and not your crutch (or speaker notes). Should something crazy happen like the projector bulb goes out or the laptop/computer dies, you should be able to give your presentation without it. (It just won’t be the “enhanced version”).
And don’t, for goodness sakes, do not make a bunch of copies of your presentation for a handout. If you need a handout, make a one-page handout of the key “take away” items you want your audience to remember. If it’s a lengthy stuff, write a report. You can send them a digital version of your presentation later if they really want it (be sure to add speaker notes so that they can get the meaning of your images). I will give a quick example here but go into details on designing your presentation slides for another blog post.
Let’s say I’m giving a presentation about the results from the 2010 U.S. Census and I want to explain which incorporated cities in the county have the oldest and youngest populations (by median age). I could present a slide like this and basically it read it to my audience:
Okay, the color scheme and design I chose are fair (a standard template) but if you were sitting in the audience, wouldn’t it be much more engaging, and hold your interest more, if I did something like this instead:
Now wasn’t that simple? Simple, easy, memorable.
A lot can be said for a well-organized presentation. When creating your presentation think about the flow and the story. Does it tell a story? Is there a beginning, middle and end? I find it most helpful to start with an outline of what I want to talk about. I then fill in my introduction and ending to wrap it all up into a coherent discussion.
An outline will not only help you organize your thoughts but it will allow you to add relevant information that you may have overlooked but that is important to your overall topic/theme/point. In addition, don’t be afraid to cut stuff out.
There are many times where you may find yourself with too much information. Just because a specific statistic or fact sounds interesting doesn’t necessarily mean it will add to your discussion. If it is something that doesn’t contribute to your storyline, take it out. You can always provide your audience with a report or handout that has additional information in it. Too much detail in a presentation can often be deadly and you’ll lose your audience before you know it.
As I mentioned previously, creating an outline can do wonders for keeping you on topic, ensuring you cover the most relevant and important facts, and staying organized. Once you have an outline created, then start thinking about what you can show on a PowerPoint to enhance your presentation.
Not only should your presentation be well organized, but you should be organized when you present. If you’ve got a well thought-out outline, be sure you stick to it. Use index cards during your presentation if necessary, like I mentioned previously. Once the presentation is ready, make yourself a checklist to ensure you stay organized and on time. Here are some things to ask yourself:
- If you are providing handouts, are they readable, copied and ready for distribution?
- If you will be directing your audience to website for additional information do you have the URL available either on your final slide or in a handout for quick/easy reference?
- Is there adequate audio/visual equipment where I’ll be giving my presentation? Find out ahead of time if you need to bring your own laptop and projector or what specifically will be provided for you.
- Do you have enough copies of everything? Get an estimated count of attendees. Don’t make copies of everything you have, it’s a waste of paper. A one-page handout is plenty and/or provide a link (URL) to a digital version of your presentation (with your speaker notes included) and/or accompanying report.
Being organized not only looks professional but it gives your presentation and you more credibility.
A simple and organized presentation will fall flat if it is not polished. I don’t care how well you know your subject matter, you still need to rehearse, rehearse, rehearse! Practice your presentation in front of a mirror, in front of your family, your dog, or whomever. I’ve even used my video camera to record myself. If possible, ask for constructive criticism on the presentation itself (both the PowerPoint and your speech) as well as on your delivery. Be open to change if it is warranted, but you do not have to use every idea that your reviewers give you.
Another benefit of rehearsing is to help you with those stage-fright jitters. I think we all have the jitters when we get in front of an audience, some of us more than others, but if you are practiced and polished it can go a long way for calming your nerves. Rehearsing will not only help to polish your delivery of the presentation but it can help you refine and polish the slideshow as well as the speech. Everything looks better with a little polish.
Preparing the presentation itself takes the most amount of time, of course. I know I only touched the surface on how to make a PowerPoint that enhances your presentation. In my next article I’ll go into more detail and provide more examples on how to create a simple yet memorable PowerPoint. In the meantime you might want to check out the work of Garr Reynolds, the Master of Presentation Zen.
I also want to point out that creating a presentation/PowerPoint for teaching technical subjects does not always lend itself to being as simple as I have shown here. But there are ways of adapting this approach to teaching. I’ll also cover that in a later article as well.
Remember, make your Standard Operating Procedure for preparing and giving presentations Simple, Organized and Polished. You’ll be amazed at how much your audience will appreciate, remember and learn with just these simple techniques.