One of the most important steps in creating a PowerPoint presentation takes place before you even go near a computer. Good old paper and pen are all you need for this crucial procedure. Or rather, paper, pen and brain. What is this step? Outlining.
Now before you moan about outlining being for English class or some other painful experience out of your past, give me a chance here. I’ll explain what I’m talking about – and I think you’ll end up agreeing with me.
You see, the whole point of doing a PowerPoint presentation in the first place is (or should be) relaying important and useful information to others. You want those others to learn about something, understand something, be motivated to do something, or a combination of these things. And an outline happens to be a terrific tool for working out HOW to effectively transfer that important information from your head to their heads. You want to make sure:
▪ You don’t omit something important,
▪ You don’t include information that isn’t applicable or relevant (distracting from the important stuff, possibly creating confusion, and needlessly lengthening your presentation), and
▪ You want to feed your information to the audience in a sensible sequence.
Devoting a little time to making a good outline is an excellent way to cover all these very important bases.
You’re an Expert
It’s like this: You’re an expert in some area, or on how to do something. Or at least you’re competent and knowledgeable enough to be telling others about it, in a presentation. And since you know all about your subject, you don’t have to think about it anymore. You know all its parts and details, and how they relate to one another. You see the subject as a sensible whole. However, in the great majority of cases, your audience does not have this same sort of understanding. If they did, you wouldn’t be presenting to them.
So it’s very important to take a fresh look at the subject or procedure or plan or whatever it is you’re presenting, and break it down into pieces that are (a) easily understood, and (b) in a sequence that builds from the simplest and most fundamental, on up through more and more complex ideas and actions. Information (and eventually slides) should be presented in such a way that each new idea is built upon the one or ones before it. Outlining helps you organize your presentation to achieve this.
To Build a Great Outline, Be the Audience
Here’s a tip. As you build your outline, step back from time to time and look at it as though you had never seen it before, and as if you did NOT know all about the subject already.
In other words, take the viewpoint of someone in your eventual audience. If that someone could follow the steps (slides) of your presentation and go from little or no understanding, all the way to a good understanding – building that understanding step by step along the way (as you roll out the presentation), then you’ve done your job and accomplished your purpose. If, when you look at the outline from the “uneducated audience member” viewpoint, you run into confusions, misunderstandings, or just plain old “Huh??”, then you’ve got to refine your outline.
Re-examine and re-arrange the sequence, add in information you may have mistakenly omitted, delete information that isn’t really necessary to building understanding, and so on.
Once you’ve got your outline well worked out, do this audience viewpoint review step one last time, from the start of the outline to the finish. It’s a good idea to step away from the presentation for a while before doing this final review. Leave it alone for a day, or maybe just overnight, and then take a really fresh look at it.
But Wait – There’s More…
For even more on this subject of outlining, and a wealth of know-how, tools, tips and tricks for building knock-their-socks-off presentations, I invite you to read my book on the subject: Slide Satisfaction. You can read about it here – then download your own copy, and start taking advantage of years and years of experience, distilled and collected to help you be a great presenter.
Wishing you fabulous presentations,