Powerpoint Presentation TipsPDF version
Most of us have experienced the pain of a bad presentation. You know, the one where you look at your watch every minute, hide your yawning, and wonder how long it will take before you loose your mind looking at a big screen with 18 bullet-points you have no clue what are about. You're reading this because you DON’T want to be the person giving that presentation, so here is six tips to improve your presentation.
1. CREATE A STORY
The first thing you need to realize is that the powerpoint document (or keynote if you are on a mac) is not the presentation. The presentation is a story and the powerpoint is visual guides for this story. The object of a good powerpoint is to empathize meaning, create clarity and make people remember the story. Once your realize this, most of the other hints on this page will become clear, and feel natural.
When you realize that your presentation is a story you realize that you don’t start creating it in powerpoint. You start creating it on a piece of paper. You create an opening, a middle part and an ending. The beginning is where you engage your audience. You have about 30 seconds to create interest in any audience, if you loose that objective, the rest of the presentation won’t even matter, you’ve already lost.
The middle is where you’re story is laid out and the anticipations are fulfilled. The end summarizes, repeats and calls for action.
2. AVOID DEATH BY BULLET POINTS
Ever created a presentation by opening powerpoint and started filling in the bullet-points that are there? Out of respect for your audience; NEVER do this again. We do this mostly because the software (mis)leads us to do so. It’s considered a «standard». But do a google search for «death by bullet points» and you will see how many people are trying to tell the world to stop this nasty habit.
Bullet-points include too much text, and the human brain is not made to read and listen at the same time. As soon as you start reading the text that is on the slide, you loose focus on what the presenter is saying. The other problem is that it's really hard to remember bullet points. There is nothing for your brain to link the bullet points to. This is why experts have created the «rule of 7» which states that any one slide should never include more than 7 words. Use this as a rule of thumb, and ignore it when it feels just.
So what do we do instead? Lets look at an short example. In Norway we have our famous 9 rules for travelling in mountains. Lets create a powerpoint to explain these rules for you - first the wrong way, and then the right way. The wrong way: First, we open powerpoint, and we create our list of 9 bullets. That’s how 95% of us would do it. It would look something like this.
Now, is this intriguing? How many of these rules would you remember? Is this remarkable? Or would this pretty much put you to sleep? If you are like most of us, the answer is the latter. Now the alternative approach. Do a search for «mountain backpack» (to illustrate point 5)
Find a suitable background, create a slide for each point instead of cramming it all in one slide and maybe you’ll end up with something like the image below.
This might not be what you are «used to» or what your colleagues do, but ask yourself this question; a week from now, which point on the list will I remember? I think you already know the answer!
3. IMAGES, IMAGES AND MORE IMAGES
Our brain is really good at remembering images and it is also really good at connecting images to abstract ideas. Good use of images is essential in a good powerpoint presentation. A good image clarifies a point and makes it remarkable without taking the focus away from the story. The brain can actually handle viewing something and listening to something at the same time (well, except for men watching TV).
So let's say you're talking about something that went really wrong in your story. Do a search for «failure» on our site, spend some time flipping through the result, and maybe you end up with something like the image above in your presentation. It will stand out, it will look good, and people will remember your point and thanks to our site (and other microstock sites) it doesn’t cost you much (yaymicro sells images from $1.3). Obviously, you are on a microstock site, and we want to sell you high-quality images. This is true, so don’t take our word for it, pick up a book, or check out some of the excellent blogs about presentations on the web (see links below). They all confirm the same: Use of images makes a lot of sense in presentations.
4. KEEP IT SIMPLE STUPID (KISS)
The «Keep It Simple Stupid» phrase is from the design world. It basically mean, don't do things unless you don’t have to. It is a very powerful rule in presentations also. Do yourself a favor, go through your presentations and look at every slide and every detail. Ask your self; is this necessary? Does it contribute to my story? Be hard on yourself and remove everything that doesn’t really need to be there. Be as clear and precise as you possibly can. Maybe you have a cool chart or graph that you really wanted to show, but unless it contributes to your story, take a deep breath, sigh, and delete it.
5. SLIDES AND HANDOUTS ARE DIFFERENT THINGS
Most people print their powerpoints, and hand them out, either before or after the presentation is given. This is a very common mistake. Your presentation should be visual and support your story. A handout should be read in comfort by somebody that have already seen the presentation. Your handout is where you can put in the details, and all those facts and graphs that you had to delete from your presentation.
6. PRACTICE, AND PRACTICE SOME MORE
One of the best presenters in the world is Steve Jobs, the CEO of Apple Inc. Check out some Apple Keynotes and look at a couple of them if you have no idea who this is. A lot of people think Jobs is a «natural» and just really good at this stuff. The secret is that Mr. Jobs is a perfectionist who practices every presentation he holds over and over again. Have you ever had a boss telling you «I know this stuff by know, I don’t need to practice». Or maybe you have been that person yourself. Well, if the best people in the world practice over and over again, why shouldn’t you or your boss need to? No matter what field we are in, practice always makes us better. So spend a couple of hours going through your presentation in front of the mirror, a camera, or a friend. Put yourself in the view of the audience. Is this captivating? Is this interesting? Can I do more here?
The above is just some short pointers to get you started improving your presentations. If I should give you just one tip instead it would be this; buy Garr Reynolds excellent «Presentation Zen» and read it. It’s an easy read, and will really make you understand what presentations are all about. Most of what I've learned is from this book and Garrs blog www.PresentationZen.com. Obviously this isn't the only book about this subject, but it’s the best I 've come across so far.
After reading what to do, see how others do it. Learn from the best. Here are some links that will show you great presentations:TED
Download a PDF version of this document.