We all know the routine. Walk into the conference room, clock the screen, the projector, the speaker struggling to load up their PowerPoint – and ruefully bid farewell to an hour of your life. PowerPoint has sounded the death knell of the presentation. Or has it? Believe it or not, PowerPoint can actually be a very useful and engaging tool. You just have to use it correctly. Here are a few tips to help you transform your presentations into experiences which will “compel”, “and engage”, your audience.
What is the point of this presentation? What outcome do you wish to achieve? Why are you taking the trouble to put these slides together in the first place? If you cut the extraneous waffle and stick close to the beating heart of the matter, you’ll find that your presentation automatically becomes more engaging. It’s likely that you have at least some interest in what you’re talking about. Ignoring this point of passion causes not only your audience but you yourself to lose interest in what you’re talking about. Demonstrate that you’re engaged, and your audience will feel that engagement too.
People won’t remember more than four supporting points to your argument (and that’s if you’re lucky). By the time you get onto the eighth “sub-heading”, and it’s extensively written supporting slide, your audience are surreptitiously checking their emails. Structure your presentation in such a way that the pertinent information is immediately evident, easily absorbed, and striking enough to be remembered. There are various ways in which to do this, and the best structure is dependent upon the point you wish to make. However, in all cases do your best to open and close in a memorable manner.
Writing a simple PowerPoint presentation is not actually a simple task. The temptation is always to use PowerPoint to carry the burden of detail. If you do this, you may as well not bother to write out the slides at all. People will either listen fully or read fully – they won’t do both. Cramming too much information into your slides just means that you’re consigning about 50% of your presentation to oblivion. Eyes will glaze over, and your carefully constructed sentences with their accompanying clip art will vanish before visions of lunch. Use your PowerPoint to back up and reinforce your words. Don’t use it to make the speech for you. Break up your presentation to one point per slide. To make your points clearer, try emphasising your text through different font colours.
Keeping your text simple and to-the-point is a good way to get your audience to remember it. But if you want them to engage with the slides in the first place, you’ll need to grab their attention. Striking imagery isn’t just for making your slides look pretty – it’s also for drawing the eyes of your audience. Using imagery as well as text makes your presentation memorable on a number of levels, and helps to ensure that all parts of the brain are focused upon what you’re saying. Breaking your presentation up through the use of videos will also ensure that nobody gets bored and lets their attention wander. While you don’t want your slides to be an overwhelming mish-mash of conflicting media, mixing up text, imagery, and video will help to refresh people’s attention spans, and keep them focused upon the point you wish to make.
Your presentation is guaranteed to sound awful the first time you try it. Don’t let that first time be in front of your ultimate audience! If possible, get feedback from friends, family, and colleagues. Crucially, check out the space you’ll be using – that way there are less likely to be unexpected surprises. If you can, rehearse within that space. The better you know your presentation, and the more confident you are with it, the more likely you are to wow your colleagues with the first non-horrendous PowerPoint presentation they’ve seen in years!