“Good afternoon and today I am going to present my thirty slides on ….” .. This common presentation opening is now sounding increasingly more like an apology. As soon as the presenter starts to speak they sense that the audience’s reaction is to brace themselves for the endurance test that lies ahead. There is an inevitable underlying feeling from both parties that before long the audience will go into ‘PowerPoint Switch-Off’ mode.
It’s therefore time to take stock and remind ourselves “what exactly is the purpose of PowerPoint – this supposedly supportive presentation skills aid?”
In this article we’ll be looking at some techniques to help you achieve more in your next business powerpoint presentation.
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Is Powerpoint really a Quick-Fix Solution?
At first, PowerPoint seemed to be the answer to all our presentation concerns. To the less experienced presenter it became a great way to put together a presentation. With its neat gadgets and easy-to-follow structure, PowerPoint provided a ‘quick fix’ solution to our presentation anxieties. All the presenter needed to do was to ‘deliver’ their slides.”
However the verb ‘to deliver’ has become replaced by the phrase ‘to read out aloud’ and even by the phrase ‘to hide behind’ which results in a total switch off for our audiences.
Audience-Friendly Powerpoint Slides
In order to help create a more postive experience for our audiences, we need to look at what we put on our slides to ensure that they are audience friendly – ie designed for the audience’s benefit. Slides should support our message, not to be the message. They are meant to be a visual aid – visual being the operative word.
Less is more
You may think that the more information you put on a slide, the easier it is to remember and present the information. However, the more text you have on a slide the more you are restricted by the text. It means that you have to present all the information on the slide and this hinders your ability to be spontaneous or conversational with their audience.
Attention grabbing slides
Fewer words say more and have far greater impact. Punchy phrases grab attention and are easy to read at a glance. By reducing the amount of information you have on a slide you give yourself more flexibility to interpret the slide and relate the information to a particular audience.
A few key words or phrases will give you the necessary prompts you need. You can see these prompts at a glance which means that you will be able to spend more time engaging with your audience. Your audience are less likely to read ahead and therefore more likely to listen to you and maintain concentration.
Keep it clean!
Slides need to be ‘clean’ and not over-fussy. They need to be easily read or seen by the whole audience. You shouldn’t have to ask the audience if they can ‘read it at the back’ – it’s too late to find that they can’t read the slide when you start your presentation – you need to have worked this out before!
Use a font size that is easy for the audience to read – if the audience can’t read it then it shouldn’t be there. Keep your fonts consistent – to one or two varieties at the most. This is much easier for the audience to read and follow.
What Visual Aid to use?
A visual is an immediate way of conveying information to an audience. Visual slides are also easier to talk around.
Simple and clearly labelled graphs are excellent means of simplifying the presentation of data. Graphs are effective ways of showing historical trends and patterns at a glance. Remember to use a large enough font size for any numbers / words on the axes of the graphs so that the audience can read easily them.
Pie charts and bar charts are very effective ways of conveying information by use of colour and shading. Keep it simple though, as too much colour or shading soon makes it difficult for the audience to read at a glance. Restrict the colour to 3 colours maximum – this is enough to add variety but avoid becoming confusing and messy.
Pictures are very effective for communicating concepts and conveying emotion. They encourage the audience to use their imagination hence helping them maintain interest and stay switched on throughout the presentation.
Avoid PowerPoint feature abuse!
Avoid over-doing the technical wizardry in PowerPoint or using too many ‘fly in’ bullets in PowerPoint presentations – they soon become very predictable. If you adopt the ‘less is more’ approach to using text then you will not need to rely on fly-ins to gradually reveal information.
Simple dissolves in-between slides can look professional but overuse of some options quickly becomes very distracting. The audience will end up paying more attention to the gimmicks than to the message that you are trying to convey.
Are you a Polished Presenter or just a PowerPoint Operator?
The slick and polished nature of PowerPoint, whilst adding value to a presentation when used appropriately, can also weaken the human input in presenting. The presenter’s role can easily become reduced to no more than the ‘PowerPoint Operator’. If a presenter lacks confidence they may use the PowerPoint to ‘hide behind’. Public speaking is in fact one of the most common public fears – almost as strong as fear of death!
Good delivery skills are very important to help provide us the much desired confidence needed for us to be a polished and professional presenter. We have to re-learn the meaning of ‘delivery’. It is not reading off the slide or hiding behind your laptop, it is all about the art of communication and the ability to command and engage with your audience.
Delivery skills can be learnt – in fact most good presenters spend a lot of time practising their delivery techniques to help them develop into confident and effective presenters.
Project a strong personal presence
A strong personal presence is very important especially when you are competing with a large screen behind you. Poor stance, irritating habits, lack of eye contact will all inhibit your ability to engage with your audience.
A common mistake is that the the PowerPoint presenter ‘anchors’ themself to their laptop throughout the presentation. This gives the impression that they are saying to their audience “Don’t look at me – I’m not important – I’m just an accessory to the equipment.”
Define your space
To avoid feeling insignificant by the technology and the large screen behind you, move to a space away from the equipment when you first start your presentation. This should ideally be nearer to the audience. This will help you build rapport with the audience at the start. It will also give the impression that it is you who is controlling the presentation rather than the PowerPoint controlling you.
Make a strong last impression
Likewise, at the end of the presentation, move away from the equipment – towards the audience – to establish a strong final impression. Make sure that your last slide is the image that you want to leave your audience with or, alternatively, leave a blank slide or switch off the PowerPoint before you finish.
Slowdown the PowerPoint slide changes
Another common contributor to the PowerPoint ‘Switch-Off’ is the endless stream of rapid slide changes that can occur in a presentation with too many slides delivered too quickly. When this happens it doesn’t take long to see that fixed glazed expression on the audiences’ faces.
To avoid this, take your time to change slides – pause and allow the audience to take in what is on the screen before speaking. The audience need this time to assimilate what has just been said and to absorb the information on the new slide before you start to speak. It will also give you time to gather your thoughts before you begin to speak.
Edit your slide show
Don’t feel that you have to have a slide for everything you say. You can deliver messages without any use of visual aids and it will be a nice contrast to move away from the PowerPoint at certain times in your presentation. When you have created your presentation it is a good idea to eliminate the least important slide and do this a few times until you only keep the most essential slides.
And remember to look at your audience!
Avoid showing the back of your head to the audience – by looking back at the screen for your prompts. If you do this your voice will trail off as you turn your head away from the audience and this will reduce the impact of your message.
We need to look at people – give them eye contact if we want to fully engage with them. Use your laptop, rather than the screen to take your prompts.
Ensure that your laptop is arranged carefully in front of you so that you are facing the audience when you look at it. Alternatively, use easy-to-read notes or prompt cards to give you the necessary prompts.
Polish the PowerPoint Practicalities
You also need to think about the practicalities of presenting your PowerPoint presentation to ensure a polished, professional performance.
Five key points to consider are:
1. Clearly state the length of your presentation at the start so that your audience know exactly how long it will be. You must then stick to your times – to keep your audience’s attention.
2. Be conversational with your audience – ask them a few questions at the start to ‘open them up’ before ‘plunging into the slide show. This will help encourage a more personal environment and you will be able to pitch your presentation more effectively to those present.
3. Identify the key benefits of your presentation to your audience . Ask yourself “why should your audience listen to you?” Make it clear at the start what your audience will gain from your presentation.
4. Ensure that you are properly set up before you start. Set up the equipment in good time and make sure that you have tested it out so there is not danger of things going wrong once you have started your presentation.
5. Finally – try to enjoy your presentation – a presenter who looks as it they are going to enjoy their presentation will send out the right signals to their audience. And – if your enjoy it your audience are also more likely to!
Invest in your own powerpoint presentation skills
There are no hidden secrets to being successful when you present. You can develop these skills through training and practice. It is worth the investment. By enhancing the ways in which you present and communicate you’ll be able to develop a much stronger influence on your audience and thus encourage them to respond to you in the way you want!
To get some expert advice and coaching and enhance your presenting, click on one of the links below:-
Skillstudio also offer public courses, 1-2-1 coaching and in-house training in many aspects of presentation skills and communication skills, including public speaking, vocal skills and body language awareness.
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