Q: What’s the fastest way to turn a corporate presentation into a zombiefest?
A: PowerPoint them to death.
It’s no secret that slide-based business presentations are often excruciatingly dull. Chances are, you’ve experienced this agonizing boredom from both sides, as an audience member and as a presenter.
Here’s the thing: PowerPoint is not the problem. You’re the problem.
PowerPoint can be a dynamic, persuasive teaching tool that engages your audience. Used poorly, however, PowerPoint is an instrument of mass zombification. The power of the tool depends on how you wield it.
The good news is that using PowerPoint effectively is not that difficult. Use the following list of ten simple strategies to revive your company presentations—and have a lot more fun in the process.
#1: Design your presentation based on passion.
A dynamic presentation is created with one question in mind: “Why does this matter?”
If you are passionate about the topic—or, at minimum, able to understand why the topic is important to your audience—you will be able to connect with audience members in a memorable way.
Once you’ve gained clarity about why your topic is vitally important, you can use structure and design elements within PowerPoint to create impact. Start on paper with a list of the salient points you need to cover. Write each point on a separate index card and place the cards in a logical order. With this storyboard in place, you’re ready to fire up PowerPoint and begin creating slides based on your index cards.
#2: Get their attention in the first 10 seconds.
The members of your audience will give you a limited window to hook their attention. Once you lose your audience’s attention, it’s likely to be gone for good.
One strategy for gaining immediate attention is to skip the preliminary chatter (“Thanks for inviting me here today”). The first sentence you speak aloud acts as the topic sentence of your entire presentation. If your first sentence has impact, your audience will stay alert for more.
You can also gain immediate attention with your opening slide. Instead of a traditional title slide, open with a startling visual. This could be a full-bleed image that provokes an emotional response, such as a shark swimming directly toward the viewer, corresponding with your opening sentence about self-preservation as a business tactic. Or it could be a single word or number, such as “87%” displayed in large type on a blank background, creating intrigue that will lead your audience to listen closely.
#3: Make every corporate presentation personal.
Every person in the audience is listening to find out how your topic directly affects him or her. If you’re familiar with any individuals in the audience, you can mention one or two by name during the course of your presentation: “I know that Jim Smith and his department deal with this problem on a regular basis.” Better yet, ask Jim to briefly describe the personal impact for his position. If your audience is unfamiliar to you, you can engage them personally by asking for a show of hands on a specific point.
#4: Be concise.
When it comes to text on PowerPoint slides, less is more. Remember that your audience will read what’s onscreen before they tune in to the words you’re speaking aloud, so keep text to a minimum. If you find yourself organizing a slide’s text into bullet points, that’s probably a sign that you’re including too much information on one slide. A good rule of thumb is to have one point per slide and keep each slide up for only 10-15 seconds.
#5: Remember that design elements are a means of communication.
Give some thought to the layout of text and images on each slide. Where do you want the audience’s attention to go first? Make that piece larger, place it higher, or move it to the left of the screen. Use color and contrast to heighten the impact of the information you’re presenting.
#6: Address the right brain.
Statistics can be illustrated with stories, and any significant statement can be accompanied by an image that strikes an emotional chord. One way to increase emotional investment in your topic is the thoughtful use of color to emphasize a point, such as red or orange to signify danger. Another way to up the emotional ante is by using full-bleed images that fill the screen.
#7: Never, never, never use clip art.
Audiences are conditioned to associate clip art with dull presentations. Instead of clip art, use photographs—and choose them well. Every image in your presentation should be relevant, emotionally engaging, and big.
#8: Avoid the data dump.
In a corporate presentation, it’s tempting to rely on printouts of your PowerPoint slides as an audience handout. Instead, prepare a detailed takeaway sheet (or packet) that will be available afterward. Save the heavy data for the takeaway. Your slides should merely highlight the key points.
#9: Skip the graphs and tables.
Don’t cram your slides with visuals that are too dense to digest quickly. Instead, pull out the most important statistics one at a time, highlighting them on separate slides. If it’s vital to include a particular graph or chart in your presentation, take the time to make it PowerPoint-friendly. Bar graphs and pie charts should be large, with contrasting colors and not more than 4-5 total bars or pie slices. All text should be large enough to read easily.
#10: Don’t expect PowerPoint to do the work for you.
Remember, the slides aren’t the presentation. You are the presentation. The slides are simply there to support you as visual aids. Strive to connect with the audience and keep the focus on you, the presenter. Don’t dim the lights as if presenting a movie; instead, allow the projected slides to act as a dynamic background for your own body. Use PowerPoint as a vibrant visual aid to support the real star of the presentation—you.