I’ve written before about the difference between a presentation and PowerPoint. And now that you know the difference and you realize that what you need is a presentation and not just a PowerPoint (or slideshow), you need to begin the task of building your presentation. And by “build” I not only mean the look of your presentation but the story and the structure of it as well. Let’s get started.
Before you go about designing your slides you first need to have your story outlined. People spend so much time trying to get cutesy graphics and flashy designs that they forget the purpose of the slides. The purpose of slides is to augment your presentation. They should never be a replacement for your presentation or, worse yet, your speaker notes! Let me repeat that: your slides are not your speaker notes! Your presentation (what you say) should be able to stand on its own without the slides. The slides simply enhance your story.
Build The Story
Your presentation is essentially a story. What story do you want to tell your audience? Let’s say, for example, that you are a shoe expert and have been asked to give a presentation on ladies’ shoes. Do you just jot down some bullet points, type them into PowerPoint (or KeyNote), throw in a cute design template, and call it good? No! To be effective, you need a story. You have to engage your audience. Just because you are a subject matter expert doesn’t mean you can get in front of an audience completely unprepared and engage them in your topic. What you need is to prepare a story that will not only engage the audience, but will also provide them with information and key points they can easily take from your presentation.
Building your storyline is critical to a successful presentation. You will probably have to gather data and information from external sources as well as your own personal knowledge, but the critical piece is your story. The story is what will keep your audience engaged. To help you with building your story, I have outlined seven steps for building a memorable, engaging presentation:
Step one: Gather your supplies.
What you will need:
- pen (preferably one regular pen or pencil and a felt-tip marker)
- paper (standard note paper is fine – I prefer yellow legal pads – the 8.5×11 size
- post-it or ‘sticky’ notes (either 3 inch x 3 inch or 3 inch x 5 inch size – or both)
Step two: Write down your thoughts.
This is the brainstorming part. It seems in this day of computers and instant gratification so many people skip this step and just plunge right in to the a presentation. I like to just jump into my topic and start writing things as they come to me. All those ideas I had about what I want to say in my presentation – those are the things I start writing down. They become bullet points and sentences on a page. At first I find it comes out in a sort of order then I tend to get other ideas as I write and I just go with it. I write it all down. Not all of this will make it into the final presentation and there will most likely be things not on this first idea sheet that will be in the final presentation. The intent here is to gather all your ideas into one place. There’s no page limit here, but get at least one page of thoughts. I generally try to keep it to one page anyway so that I can look at the whole thing as I move on to the next step.
Step three: Arrange your story.
Now it’s time for the sticky notes. Grab your pad and the felt-tip marker and write one main idea per ‘sticky.’ As you write each one, stick it on a wall or, better yet, a white board or chalk board. If you don’t have access to either of these you can use anything where you have enough space to start putting the ideas up in front of you. Once all your ideas are on the ‘stickies’ start arranging them so they make beginnings of a story outline. This is where you may come up with more ideas or discover that some of the ideas you had originally just don’t fit. So get rid of the ones that don’t quite flow with your story, add new ones if you think of something else along the way. Continue until you have the outline for your story.
Step four: Design your story.
You now have your story and talking points in front of you on the sticky notes. Look them over and determine what type of image would best represent and enhance each talking point. Using the shoe example I mentioned at the beginning of this article, if I was talking about different shoe styles, I’d probably want to have an image of the type of shoe I’m talking about projected on the screen behind me. Once you have an idea of the images you want for your presentation, it may take some time to find them so be prepared to select some alternate images that will work just as well. You do not need an image for every point you have, you may be able to cover multiple points on one image and you may be able to use a simple chart or table instead. Just remember, though, keep it simple! Do not add a table or chart with so much data that you have to use a small font to show it all. If that’s the case, it does not belong on a slide. Save it for the handout instead. Think it through and just be sure not to get hung up too much on looking for images and graphics that you lose sight of the story.
Step Five: Put it all together.
Now that you have your key talking points and the images that enhance your story, it’s time to put it into the digital presentation. The images will have much more impact if you have just one image per slide and the image takes up the whole slide. The slide would not need any words on it, just the image (no logo, no title, just the image taking up the whole slide). You will be presenting the details when you speak. To illustrate, let’s go back once again to the shoe presentation. If I was going to give some statistics like, for instance, the percentage of women who wear pumps, I’d have my photo of a nice pair of pumps taking up the whole slide, then as I talk about the percentage the image would fade in the background and the percent number would come across the top in big, bold letters. No text on the slide necessary – just the number. This is simple, it’s memorable and it enhances my story.
When building your slideshow, whether using PowerPoint, Keynote or some other presentation software, take advantage of the “Speaker/Presenter Notes” feature to add your talking points or even your actual speech that goes with each slide. That way when people ask for a copy of your presentation, you can give them the talking points that go with it by using the “Speaker Notes” feature. I would also suggest that you include the sources for your images in the notes section and, if you’ve purchased the images yourself, you should convert the presentation to PDF rather than giving the PowerPoint or KeyNote file directly so that you are not redistributing images in violation of a license agreement. (Note: even Royalty Free images do not allow you to freely redistribute them, but they do allow you to use them in your presentation and provide a printed/PDF version of your presentation for your audience. Always read the license agreement to be sure).
Step Six: Create the handout.
Some places you speak at may require that you provide a copy of your presentation. As mentioned in Step Five, your presentation will not be very useful without the notes that go with it. So for places that require a copy of your presentation, be sure to include the notes. But what you also need for your presentation is a handout. I’m not talking about a printed version of your slideshow, either. I’m talking about a one page handout that will provide your audience with key take-away points from your presentation. Using a handout is a very valuable tool because a sheet of paper allows you to include more information than can be included on a slide.
Start creating the handout by gathering the main points from your presentation. These will be the ones you have from the sticky notes plus any additional you may have added as you put together the slideshow and modified the presentations. Put these on a one-page document (it can be double sided). Sometimes simple bullet points work, but you may want to add a graph, chart or table to illustrate your information. The important part is to make it easy to read. The one-page handout not only provides the information from your presentation in a quick and easy-to-read document, but also gives you the ability to provide additional details to your audience that you did not have time to cover in your presentation. Be sure to cite any sources you used in gathering your information.
Step Seven: Practice makes perfect.
Once you have your outline, your presentation slideshow, and your handout completed, your next step is to practice your presentation until you pretty much have it memorized. If you’ve gone through the steps as I have outlined above then you probably have most of the statistics and key points already committed to memory, but you still need to practice the presentation. Print out the speaker notes pages from your slideshow and rehearse, rehearse, rehearse! It also helps to rehearse it while sitting in front of your computer and going through the slideshow as you talk. You should have your presentation polished so that you don’t even need to look at the slides behind you as you speak.
Having your presentation polished, the slideshow designed to enhance your story, and a handout for your audience to take away with them will make your presentation a memorable and informative one!