Why are your PowerPoints so crappy?

How many painful presentations start with needless introductions and rambling preambles? That’s a surefire way to lose your audience from the get-go. Even if you’re not boring them, you’re announcing that this will be the same thing they’ve heard a million times.

So forget the formalities and just start. That’s lesson #1 from my Better PowerPoint, Better Presentations workshop. In the spirit of getting right to it, here are my 15 tips on how to rock your next presentation.

  1. Tell a story. We’re hardwired to love stories. Tell one, Asher says, and your audience will pay greater attention. Bonus points for creating a personal bond through a personal story.
  2. Be the star. When it comes to PowerPoint, visuals are better than words (see Tip 10). But don’t let the screen steal your spotlight; competition between slide and speaker just confuses an audience. “No one comes to the conference room to look at slides,” Asher says. “They came to hear you say something.”
  3. Make it emotional. The research you’re presenting is rational; your presentation doesn’t have to be. No one makes decisions solely with Spock-like logic, Asher says. Use emotion, and your message will live long and prosper well after your presentation is over.
  4. Be brief. Attention spans keep shrinking in this always-on, multi-screen age. The longer your presentation is, the more of your audience you’ll lose, Asher says. So keep editing down your deck (and keep it interesting).
  5. Stand by the screen. Don’t give your audience whiplash by forcing them to constantly turn between you and your slides.
  6. Practice. The more comfortable you are with your content, the more compelling you’ll be.
  7. Involve them. Keep the audience on its toes. Ask questions, invite small group discussions, or get them out of their chairs. “It makes them more alert and gets them thinking about the material a little more.”
  8. Know your stuff. The more you understand the material, the more believable and compelling you’ll be. You’ll sound natural, not stiff. Asher likes to point to a Steve Jobs quote: “People who know what they’re talking about don’t need PowerPoint.”
  9. Exude confidence. The more enthusiastic you are, the more your audience will be into it. And the more you practice (remember tip 6?) the more relaxed you’ll feel up there. In the meantime, Asher recommends watching Amy Cuddy’s Ted Talk for some fake-it-until-you-make-it advice on looking confident.
  10. Use visuals, not words. You’re the speaker; you’re in charge of words. Let PowerPoint handle the images. And only show things that your words can’t do justice.  
  11. No teleprompter slides. Don’t just read what’s on the screen. You’re not going to flash a super-dense slide full of words, right? You’re the star of this show.
  12. Ten words per slide max. Think of a slide like billboard, Asher says. You want people to comprehend what’s on the screen within three seconds. And don’t forget, PowerPoint and Keynote don’t charge by the slide. 
  13. Use highlighted bullets. Asher begrudgingly allows bulleted copy – on the condition you use highlighted bullets, meaning only one bullet appears at a time. But it’s still a bad idea, he adds. 
  14. Keep graphics simple. Is the person in the back of the room really going to make sense of that squiggly mess of lines and graphs? Neither will the person in the front row. Remember, you want your audience to grasp what’s on the slide in three seconds.
  15. Make a separate handout. You prudently edited the nitty-gritty details out of your presentation because they didn’t belong. But they’d be perfect for a handout. If you need some help designing one, go to http://www.duarte.com/slidedocs/ and download a free template. (I practice what I preach. The handout for this presentation is available here.)

 

Larry Asher is one of the Co-Directors of SVC as well as the Creative Director of Worker Bees. You can find him teaching Better PowerPoint, Better PresentationsHow to Run A Successful Freelance Business and The Copywriter's Workshop at SVC.