Death by PowerPoint is an all too real phenomenon for many professionals. Symptoms include:
- wishing for binoculars
- thinking about lunch
- scrolling through Twitter whilst pretending to take notes
Fortunately, there’s a cure, and I’m here to share it…
How to improve your PowerPoint skills
Look, nobody is born a great presenter, let alone a great PowerPoint presenter. We all make mistakes, and certain environments encourage the continuation of said mistakes rather than challenging people to improve their presentations.
My background is academic, so believe me, I have *seen* some pretty mediocre PowerPoints in my time. Fortunately, I’ve also been in the audience to some powerful, useful, and sometimes hilarious ones too (if I’m lucky, all three at once). As a trainer and occasional public speaker, I am probably not the kind of person you want in your audience, because I am a total geek when it comes to presentations: I dissect your approach, your slides, the cadence of your voice, and how your in-person presentation co-exists with the digital sphere (or not).
So, I thought I’d share some of my bugbears and some recommendations to improve your presentations instantly.
PowerPoint Slides: 3 things to avoid
- You’ve crammed so much text and charts into each slide that it starts to look like abstract art. You’ve even reduced the font size to squeeze in more text. There isn’t a shortage of slides you know.
- You’ve included the exact text that you are reading out. It’s even worse if it deviates slightly. John Medina’s research suggests that the brain cannot concentrate on two things at once, so reading text while listening to someone talk is a struggle.
- Someone told you images are good, so you’ve included them. Unfortunately, they are clichéd images that interpret your point literally and add nothing to your presentation (you’re talking about strategy so… you have the image of a chess piece. How… original…).
PowerPoint slides: 3 things to try
- One point = one slide.
- Limit your use of bullet points. (I know, it’s ironic that I’m telling you this in a bullet point list. BUT THIS ISN’T A POWERPOINT SLIDE OK.)
- Look for visuals that enhance rather than literally illustrate the point being made. You want your audience to make connections in their brain rather than glaze over. Oh, and if you’re in the B2B industry please step away from the handshake, the target, the lightbulb on a blackboard, etc.
I’m not claiming this is a perfect slide, but I whipped it up to illustrate the one slide = one point concept. Here you are clear about what is being talked about. If I were presenting, I would be using this slide as an introductory one before delving into the specifics in other slides.
Better PowerPoint slides = better presentations
You’ll be amazed at the difference these changes will make to your presentation. The problem with text-heavy presentations is that you feel beholden to them. Your body is always half-turned to the screen as you squint to read your slides. You are basically reading a story out to your audience.
With visually interesting and clean slides, your slides become an enhancement of your presentation, rather than the sole focus. The audience is better able to pay attention to what you’re saying.The problem with text-heavy presentations is that you feel beholden to them. Your body is always half-turned to the screen as you squint to read your slides Click To Tweet
The digital sphere: prolonging conversations
Presentations are great but if it’s something of value and interest to people you’re probably not going to be able to have all the useful conversations after your presentation. Some people might need to leave early, others might be introverts who don’t feel like getting to you through the cloud of people.
This is where social media becomes useful. Not all conference or presentation structures have a digital strategy, but you can still, as an individual, have one.
Something as basic as having your Twitter handle or LinkedIn address on each of your slides means that people can connect, or share their thoughts on your presentation, in real-time. These are relationships that you can nurture and develop long after your presentation.
Your presentation styles
There isn’t just one style, and what’s appropriate will be different from place to place. I’m also aware that different disabilities can restrict what is and isn’t possible.
When I was an academic, I would read from stacks of paper because that was the standard and made it easier to time the lengths (those who deviated from this tended to be senior professors who would also go *way* above their allocated time, therefore making the whole day run late).
These days, however, I present without sheaths of paper. If there’s important data I want to remember, I’ll add it to the ‘notes’ section of PowerPoint or include it directly in the slide.
It was intimidating at first, but it’s actually quite freeing. This approach means you’re also quite aware of whether your presentation flows in a way that’s logical to the audience.
As an audience member, I appreciate this too. Watching someone read from a stack of papers isn’t engaging, especially if you’re not someone who absorbs information aurally easily. I
Of course, this isn’t possible for everyone and if notes are the only way you can present then, by all means, keep them.
How to make your reading more engaging
If notes or a typed out presentation are necessary for you, here are a few tips to make it more engaging:
- If you can, stand up. This automatically brings more energy, makes you breathe better, and project your voice.
- Hold your paper up, so that your head isn’t bent forward. Again, this makes you project your voice.
- Glance up from your papers every so often and look at a different section of the audience. You don’t need to make eye contact if you find it difficult, aim for just above people’s heads instead.
- If you think you’re reading slowly enough, slow down even more.
- If you think you’re reading loudly enough, speak up.
- Don’t be afraid to move around the stage, point at the presentation, take pauses from the paper to give an aside. These changes of paces will keep your presentation lively.
- Remember: you’re the expert and people want to hear what you have to say.
That’s all folks
So, here are some of my thoughts around PowerPoint presentations, particularly in a business situation. Do you have any other bugbears or tips? I’d love to hear them.
Please do share this blog with anyone you think could need it!