by Adam Noar
You know the drill. And it sucks.
The boss wants a presentation. It’s due in less than 24 hours. “And do a Powerpoint,” he says. “That way everyone can have handouts.”
Presumably, the presenter will know a lot about the content going into the slide deck, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes, we’re out there researching, gathering info, and writing at the same time … hoping no one will notice when we stir everything into a slide deck soup.
It’s tempting to stuff every slide with enough facts until the pages are engorged, swollen with text and numbers. You’d think that it would be fruit ripe for the picking, but it’s not.
It’s putrid, and it stinks. The days of data-dumping and text-toppling are over.
You run the danger of putting too much information on a slide and then <gasp> reading it aloud, every syllable of every factoid in front of a group who occasionally nods, either in agreement or in the early stages of sleep.
Fortunately, that’s not you O Savvy One. You would never be guilty of creating an offensive presentation like that because you’ve upped the ante. Raised the bar.
You’ve elevated your game to a higher standard, and your presentations stand out for all the right reasons. Your slides are clear and compelling. You’ve given the audience the information they need – in advance of the presentation, and you’re prepared to follow up with additional contact.
And here’s how you pull it off, each time it’s your turn to create that PowerPoint presentation, even on short notice.
Beat the clock
When was the last time you heard someone say, “Oh boy, I can spend hours making a slide deck and not take care of every other major crisis coming across my desk today”?
No one wants to jump down the black hole officially known as Now-I-Have-to-Make-a-PowerPoint-Presentation-Instead-of-Everything-Else-That-Also-Has-to-Get-Done.
That’s because you know that as soon as you get close to the Event Horizon, you’re going to get sucked into a maelstrom of content, and there’s no way out. This content consists of two parts.
The first part is formerly used slides (yours and your colleagues’). That means sifting through deck after deck in the hopes that you’ll find something – anything, really — useful.
The second is new information gleaned from all the research you did after checking social media and watching cat videos and Googling black holes before deciding if ergospheres are a thing, and then finally finding the information you might use in your presentation.
Save time and beat the clock by planning. The British Army has always said that “Proper planning prevents piss poor performance,” but in this case, it also prevents procrastination and panic.
Ask yourself two important questions:
1.) What’s the purpose of this presentation?
PowerPoints can have many purposes, including education, inspiration, and persuasion. By determining what your presentation is supposed to do, you’ll have a direction in which to go.
2.) Who is the audience?
Every audience is unique. The members have different degrees of knowledge and experience. Your job is to meet them where they are and catapult them forward in understanding or decision-making.
Knowing WHY and WHO makes deciding on the WHAT a quick process. You can gather your information, dropping each main point onto ONE slide. Support each point with no more than two or three bullets, create transitions, set the background theme, and you’re done.
Beating the clock isn’t about making a PowerPoint faster than anyone else. It’s about planning ahead so you can use your time effectively. Then you can watch those cat videos.
You don’t have to reinvent the wheel each time you design a presentation. Start a collection of beautiful presentation templates that allow you to insert information into charts and other visuals.
A picture’s worth a thousand words
Most humans are innately visual.
We’re wired to assess visual cues before responding to them, and we’re good at it. The process has long been a part of our survival skills.
We’ve learned that triangular-shaped heads on snakes are a bad thing, insects that have a stinger can hurt, and nothing good will come of a long line for the restroom when you’re trying to potty-train a two-year-old.
What we see determines how quickly we can respond to information. In fact, we process what we see 60,000 times faster than what we read.
Imagine trying to read an explanation of the various bus or subway routes in any major city in the world. The text would overwhelm you, not to mention make you late, but a simple graphic can show you which route will take you to your destination. Simple. Quick. Efficient. On time.
Your presentation slides must have the same clarity about them, or you run the danger of losing your audience. They’ll be adrift in a sea of words.
That’s where a little design know-how comes into play. You can buoy your audience with visual cues that help to guide them through your presentation.
Visual design should always enhance, never distract. While there are many choices for your presentation design background (and who doesn’t want to try them all?), never lose sight of what’s most important: your content.
By making your content visually appealing and easy to decipher, you’ll win over your audience.
More than half of those people in your audience rely on what they see as their primary learning modality. Your can help them visualize what you have to say with some simple strategies that turn your content into a memorable picture or graphic.
PowerPoint comes loaded with templates for graphs, charts, and mind-maps, or you can use one of the software apps like Visme to show what you mean. Flowcharts, tables, and even calendars can make understanding quick and memorable.
Look for headlines, not banana trees
It’s a jungle out there, and sometimes an audience can’t see the tropical rainforest for all the banana trees.
If you know anything about banana trees, the buggers grow really fast, and their shoots crop up in clumps. You can literally watch them grow, but the actual fruit can take what feels like forever to appear.
Presentation slides are a lot like banana trees. They both grow quickly, with information sprouting everywhere, but real fruit can be hard to find.
The real fruit on a presentation slide is the headline. Chances are that your slides have awesome information on them, but the headline is hidden, obscured by those huge banana tree leaves. You can’t even see the headline – or the bananas!
Treat your headlines as urgent bits of information to be consumed first, like the appetizer before a multi-course meal.
Satiate their hunger and capture audience attention at the top of your slides with these four tips for revealing the headline:
1.) Answer the question
If you choose a question as your headline, you can assume your audience will answer the question in their heads. You can’t, however, assume that they will answer the question correctly.
Instead of asking a question, answer the question for them. That answer is your headline. If you wrote, “Does our pricing strategy work?” at the top of your slide, change the headline to the answer: “Our pricing strategy works.”
The bullets below your headline explain why.
2.) Elevate single bullets
Somewhere along the way in school, a teacher probably told you the rule about outlines. If you have a I, you must have a II, and if there’s an A, you need a B. The same is true of bullets. A big bullet needs at least one more big bullet, and you’ve got to have more than one smaller bullet, too.
Somewhere else along the way, you said, “Whatever,” and ignored the rule.
Now your slides have a single main bullet with lots of sub-bulleted points under that. And you’re still lacking a headline.
The easy fix is to grab the text after the main bullet and make THAT your headline. Erase the text after the main bullet, and your sub-bullets become your main points.
3.) Eliminate text boxes
While it’s true that the human brain adores color and all things unique, using colored text boxes, regardless of their creative shape, are poor substitutions for headlines.
The problem is that the text boxes can be distracting instead of meaningful. Visually, they become another piece of information to figure out. Your audience will wonder about the importance of the box in relation to everything else on the slide.
Ditch the color, delete the box, and change the font to the standard heading format used throughout the PowerPoint.
Take what you wrote in the text box, and make it your headline. This one simple move will make your slides cleaner-looking and easier to read.
These tips will help you thin out those banana trees, clearing the way for a great view of the headline on every slide in your presentation.
Use your prospecting skills to go for the gold
Prospecting is hard work and time-consuming to boot, but experienced prospectors know that making a sale is all about making contact – seven times. Those multiple touches create trust and build rapport, built only if done in varied ways.
This advice holds equally true when making presentations. Remember the giving-a-speech-adage of tell them what you’re going to tell tem, tell them, and then tell them what you told them?
Do the same thing with your PowerPoint.
Effective presentations provide you with three opportunities to create a connection with your audience. Think of this strategy as the before, during and after parts of the presentation.
First, send out a pre-read to those who will be present.
The pre-read isn’t your presentation – keep your slides to yourself until show time. Pre-reads build context. They are a sampling of what’s to come, an opportunity to prime the pump and wet the whistle.
Think of the pre-read this way: what foundation of knowledge must your audience have before they see your presentation?
If you’ll be discussing the validity of String Theory vs. the Theory of General Relativity, you’d do well to make sure your audience has the background knowledge needed for your presentation. Otherwise, they’ll be Googling in an effort to keep up while you’re talking. If you’ll be guiding them to make a decision based on big data, send the data in advance.
You can also send documents as part of the pre-read.
The presentation is next. It’s the “during” part. Because everyone has looked at the pre-read, you can assume that your audience will all begin at the same starting point with you. Use your presentation time to build consensus or drive toward a decision.
And finally, touch base with everyone again by sending additional information. The contact you make can consistent of relevant links, audience-appropriate documents, or recommended articles and books as a follow-up.
Prospecting for presentation gold is about being prescient, not pedantic. Give people what they need, and let them ask for more if necessary.
Amazing presentations don’t happen by themselves. They’re the result of knowing your audience and developing enhanced skills, forged out of necessity and honed by choice.
So tell me, what OTHER presentation tricks do you have up your sleeve?
Let me know in the comments below.