No one in this room is having a good time. The audience doesn’t want to be here, because PowerPoint presentations are deadly dull. And you, the presenter, are doomed to spend the next 45 minutes lecturing to a room full of people who are already checked out.
Does it have to be this way? In a word, no.
Save yourself from certain presentation doom with these four basic tips. (And spread the word! Audiences everywhere will thank you… perhaps even literally.)
1. Be the presentation.
This may sound a little too zen for a business presentation, but the fact is that humans are hard-wired to pay close attention to human faces and gestures. An effective speaker will strive to embody the key message of a corporate presentation. As much as possible, the physical elements of your presentation should be consistent with the message you want to convey. Consider everything about you as an element that will either support or detract from your message. If you’re speaking about the need to personally connect with customers, then you need to personally connect with individual audience members during your presentation. If your message is about injecting a sense of playfulness and humor into a marketing campaign, perhaps your presentation needs to begin with a lighthearted tone and a goofy hat.
There’s also a logistical side to “Be the presentation,” which is: Know the presentation. You must know the material well enough that you don’t need the slides as a crutch. The moment you glance up at the screen to see what your own slide says, you will lose the human connection with your audience. But that doesn’t mean you have to memorize the entire presentation. In fact, speaking from notes is probably more effective than over-rehearsing. There’s a fine line between familiarity (knowing your material) and automation (delivering the material like a scripted drone). In the end, what “Be the presentation” really means is “Be present.” Bring your competent but totally human personality to it, and you’ll connect with the audience.
2. Choose a PowerPoint template that emphasizes your message.
Your PowerPoint slides are an extension of you as the speaker. It follows, then, that your slide design is just as important as anything that you do, say, or wear. Consider the following design aspects when choosing a template:
- Dark or light? It’s the first question to consider in your choice of template. You’ll want a background that shows off your visuals to full capacity, as well as one that matches the emotional tone you wish to project.
- A clean, minimalist look vs. the emotional use of color. For example, a medium blue tone is said to convey authority while also being somewhat soothing, while an orange or red-orange tends to introduce a sense of tension and alertness.
- A border as a visual container. There may be times when a simple, elegant border can be an effective design element to provide a sense of order and containment. However, a border can also take up valuable slide real estate and prevent the use of full-bleed images, so use it with care.
Ultimately, the choice of a template comes down to one question: Will this design impede my message or enhance it?
3. Make it news they can use.
Base the content of your message, as well as how you choose to convey it, on who’s listening. Company presentations should always be tailored to address the concerns of the specific individuals you will be addressing. In essence, an effective presentation is an interactive conversation between the speaker and the audience. If you’ve done your job well, they’ll walk out of the room knowing why your message matters to them personally.
Think of yourself, the presenter, as a change agent. Imagine that your presentation is a means of delivering urgent and essential information that will directly impact the members of your audience—for better or for worse. Whether or not this is actually true, you have the power to convey an emotional urgency in the way that you deliver the information. In short, if you can demonstrate that this information is important to you, your audience is more likely to believe it’s important for them to know as well.
4. Tell a story. Better yet, tell three or four stories.
Case examples are a powerful way to transmit information. For each key idea in a corporate presentation, offer a concrete example of how a specific person or company has already been affected. For a proposal, you can take the opposite tack by presenting three or four hypothetical situations with as much personal detail and visual support as possible.
Why are stories so effective as a presentation tool? We are culturally attuned to anything that has a basic story structure: a compelling main character is presented with a crisis or problem and ultimately prevails (or, in a few cases, fails in a spectacular way). It’s a world where action-adventure movies and reality TV capture an audience’s undivided attention, thanks to our psychological need to experience a resolution to dramatic tension. Use this story framework in your presentations as a way capture your audience’s attention—and keep it.