With presentations, whether you’re the presenter or an audience member, there’s one thing everyone is sharing — time. As the presenter, it’s your job to make the most out of your audience’s time and to help with that, here are some pointers to improve your next business presentation.
A great presentation feels like a great conversation with an old friend; effortless, fun, and thoroughly enjoyed by everyone. It's not just the content that makes a great presentation, but how the content is being presented. Practicing helps make the presentation feel polished and a joy to watch, and what’s nice is that most presentation software has a rehearsal feature that allows you to get the timing down, and even record yourself talking. If you are strapped for time, it's ok — practicing once is better than not practicing at all.
2. Plan it Out
This goes hand in hand with practicing. Chopping up information and throwing it together without a clear and concise vision of what you want to accomplish will end up being confusing and unfocused. Give yourself the task of answering, "What are the few things that I want my audience to remember once this is done?" Try to frame your presentation around that, and work backwards.
3. Know Your Audience
So you've figured out what you want your audience to remember, but what if they already know it? Presenting material with people that are in your field will be different than presenting the same material to people that will be hearing these ideas for the first time. Build accordingly.
4. PowerPoint ≠ A Presentation
PowerPoint has become synonymous with presentation, just like Google is synonymous with web search, but that doesn't mean you have to use it. It's merely a tool. There are many other pieces of software and web apps out there that can help, such as:
I'll save myself some typing, and lead you to another article that lists some currently available tools out there.
Don't be afraid to present without something projected behind you. You want to make sure your presentation fits your material, and if you do create a PowerPoint (or something along those lines) you want to make sure it is complementing what you're saying and not just there to be there.
If you're looking for something different, Pecha Kucha is a nice way to present your ideas in a fast and concise way that really makes you think about what you want to say. Essentially, you have 20 images that automatically advance every 20 seconds — it's up to you to tell your story within those limitations. You'd be surprised about how restrictions can actually help you think outside the box.
5. What's Your Format?
Hard and fast rules for every kind of presentation don't really work. If you have to detail intricate systems and processes, it's a bit hard to do it in a Pecha Kucha. After completing reports for clients on Employee Engagement, some of the presentations I've helped to create are much like presenting a huge report in a "Reader's Digest" medium.
Just recently, Duarte came out with a neat book done all in PowerPoint about Slidedocs — the idea of creating a visual document in a presentation program. It's the best of both worlds!
6. Branding Matters
Working within a company, there are probably brand guidelines that exist, and possibly templates that have to be used. If you have a little freedom, see if any of the design tips I bring up can be used. With that being said, you don't want to do something that doesn't fit with your brand's image just because it is cool.
7. Save Time with Themes
If you don’t have a predesigned template, it’s a small endeavor that is a big time saver. With themes and slide masters within PowerPoint, you can stop changing fonts, sizes, and colors manually on each slide. The same idea also applies to Keynote. It also won’t hurt that you’ll have a consistent look and feel.
8. Think Big or Go Home
Try using one big picture accompanied by a few words of text, as retention of information goes from 10% to 65% with the use of pictures. With a relevant image linked to an idea, it's easier to recall the information connected to it. You can find some great free images that don't require any attribution here.
9. Only Add Things of Value
It’s easy to go overboard with crazy fonts, animations, and transitions — so only use these things if they enhance how the information will be presented. Keep your transitions subtle and your animations light, and try to avoid the presentation below.
10. Location, Location, Location
Where you're going to be presenting is one of the first things you need to find out, as this has a big impact as to how you'll present; form follows function. There are two big things you need to make sure of before you present.
Check anything A/V and technology related is in place; from the equipment you'll be using to Internet access. Be prepared to change your presentation if it relies on something that won't be available to you.
Presenting at a large conference will be different from a small board room meeting, and your presentation should reflect that. It's not just the size of the room that matters, but also how many people are in it and where they are in the room.
Imagine a concert at Madison Square Garden, but only having a few hundred people scattered everywhere. Then take the same amount of people and put them into a small packed venue. Two totally different atmospheres that would require two different types of performances to successfully reach their audience.
You might not have time to make any changes to your visual presentation and have to call an audible, but all that practicing you did should give you the confidence to communicate your material!
11. Once Upon a Time...
The world is full of great stories, from those told in movies and books, to your own personal experiences. Storytelling is a part of our culture, so embrace this as a way of communicating your message in a fashion that breaks the mold of just bullet points and figures. Great stories are hard to forget.
12. Color on the Walls
An easy way to use psychology to your advantage is with color. Each color has emotions and feelings associated with them, so amplify the idea you’re trying to communicate with a dash, or even a big splash, of color. Sometimes you can be limited to your brand's color palette, but hopefully it is broad enough to cover all the bases.
13. Consistent Messaging
Make sure you have a consistent message for all of your big ideas. Keeping with one phrase for an idea can stick with the audience better due to repetition and how people remember things. It's also important to keep those poignant messages short and concise, in an almost Twitter-like approach, as it will be easier for your audience to take them in and hopefully talk about them with others.
14. Get People on Your Team
If you’re trying to persuade and influence people, it’s easier if everyone is playing on the same team. Presenting a shared problem or issue that your team needs to overcome makes it easier for others to be rooting for you: the presenter — the hero. There's more to it than that, but here's a video about the science of persuasion.
15. All the World's a Stage
Standing in one place doesn't make for an exciting display so utilize the space you’re given, but do so deliberately. Transitioning topics is the perfect time to move from one spot to another, as it provides a visual clue to your audience that something is about to change.
Sometimes you can be cramped for space, or regulated to be behind a podium — so use hand gestures to emphasize and add to what you're saying. See if you can eschew the podium though, as it only hampers the energy you can deliver in the room.
16. Back of the Napkin
Not all presentations are planned formal events, and the opportunity to explain and present an idea can pop up unexpectedly. You might not have that slide deck at hand at the moment, but you could use the back of a napkin, business card, or even paper to illustrate your ideas as you talk through them. Don't worry about your artistic skills, stick people and arrows can be more than enough to help communicate your idea.
17. Respect Attention Spans
With long presentations, break them up into 20 minute chunks to help with how humans pay attention. Attention is a finite resource a person has in a day, and it takes energy to focus for long periods of time, so after 20 minutes or so — incorporate a break in the material that helps reset the clock. A short video, a lightweight story, or even a break to let people stretch and check their phones will help sustain your audience engagement for longer.
18. Have a Memorable Beginning and End
People remember the first and last things you say, while the middle gets a little hazy. With the Serial Position Effect, the primacy effect happens to what a person is exposed to first — as the person has more time to have it enter their long-term memory.
The recency effect occurs with what they've heard most recently, and having it stored in their short-term memory. So start and end with a bang, an agenda, or simply the most important parts that you want your audience to remember. And don't forget, practice makes perfect!
Do Your Part to Help Improve Presentations
If you got something from this article, feel free to share to help your friends with their presentations.
Have some of your own tips? Let us know in the comments below!
Sean Doran, Sequent Multimedia Developer
As a recent graduate of The Ohio State University with a degree in New Media & Communication Technology, Sean solves problems by combining design, technology, and psychology. With a focus on Human-Computer Interaction, he understands that crafting amazing experiences requires being empathetic about the user’s needs, while balancing them with the goals of the business.