Posted by Damon O'Hanlon
The dreaded ‘slideshow presentation’. We’ve all sat through some terrible ones. Which is tragic, considering that a few simple tips could save the world from hours and hours of mind-numbing boredom. But in truth, most people were never taught how to do a presentation the right way. It's never too late, though, so don’t be a murderer of fun and clarity. Learn these tips, and wow everyone at your next presentation.
1. Pre-write before you begin making any slides
Before you even fire up your presentation-making-software, sit down and make an outline or draw a flowchart.
You’re telling a story here. In most cases, your presentation should have a hook, a beginning, a middle, and an end. Maybe you introduce a problem, discuss its facets, and conclude with a solution. Maybe you ask a question, which gets explored, and ultimately leads to an answer.
Get the story of your presentation hammered out, and then shape your slides to help you tell that story.
2. Start with a blank or ‘title’ slide
3. Title your presentation (cleverly)
"My Wikipedia Adventure" is instantly more fun and engaging than "Wikipedia: The Online Encyclopedia".
4. Instead of mirroring, use 'presenter mode'
If you run your presentation from your laptop, make sure you set it up to use ‘presenter mode’ instead of ‘mirroring’. Mirroring is when the exact same thing that’s on your screen shows up on the projector. When using presenter mode, your presentation still goes up on the projector for your audience to see, but on your laptop (or other computer) you see useful presenting tools, like your notes and a timer.
5. Keep your slides simple
Many people who fear public speaking try to divert attention away from themselves by centering everything around their slides. Don’t do this. Even if you use the most basic of presenting skills, people will still connect better with you than with the an inanimate projection screen. And people trying to slog their way through lengthy, complicated slides? They lose interest quickly.
Some people, even if they are comfortable with public speaking, might be under the mistaken impression that the slides just are the presentation. This is not so, and you shouldn’t pack your slides with information. To be sure, the presentation is about the topic at hand, and not yourself, but in order to most effectively communicate, you need to position yourself as the conduit through which your presentation flows. Your slides should be a tool to help your audience engage with you and the material you’re presenting. Additionally, your slides are not a Teleprompter. Have separate notes to help you elaborate on your minimalistic slides.
6. Know your orating skills
Face your audience, and speak loudly. When it comes to presenting, if you’re whisper-quiet and inaudible, sadly, no one will know what you've said. If you’re loud and stumble a bit, at least people will hear the good parts, too.
Smile, and use inflection to help you make your points. Be sure to make eye contact. These things help your audience connect with you. If it helps you, find just a few different faces around the room that make you feel comfortable and bounce between them.
Lastly, you’ll need to know your material well enough so that you’re not completely glued to your notes.
7. Keep your presentation simple
Whether we're talking about your slides or your words, you usually don’t need to pack your presentation with charts, factoids, endless anecdotes, or statistics. Bruce Lee said:
The less time you spend building your presentation and filling it with little details, the more time you should have to rehearse and be really familiar with your material.
8. Vary your slides
Bullets left, photo right. Bullets right, photo left. Rinse. Repeat.
The same basic sort of slide over and over can get pretty boring. Small variations can go a long way to livening up the feel of your presentation. On some slides, have only images. On other slides, use only big text. Slides with bullets are okay, but use a small number of bullets and keep them short.
9. Think about timing, rhythm, and ‘flash points’
Keeping your slides minimal allows you to move through them relatively brusquely, giving your audience a sense of forward progression. Still, it’s okay and good for different slides to be of different (relatively simple) complexities. Lingering on some slides and breezing through others is more dynamic in terms of pacing than one sixty-second slide after another.
Some slides should also be in your presentation solely as ‘flash points’ for impact. For instance, use big text on a slide to introduce your audience to a thought-provoking quote. Or don’t be afraid to add a picture or two more for their humor or breathtaking-ness than for ‘informativeness’.
If you use video in your presentation, keep it short. Audiovisual can be very engrossing, but the down side of this is that it removes your audience from the flow of your presentation.
10. Transitional effects and (shudder) sound effects should be absent or really, really rare
Computer-driven visual and sound effects are glitzy and distracting. Instead, rely on verbal transitions which feel more natural and keep your audience queued into what you’re actually saying.
11. Know your tool
Whether it’s PowerPoint, Keynote or another tool, know how to use it. Spend a little time reading online tutorials. Importantly, note that the default way the software presents itself is not necessarily the best way for it to be used. If you’re relying on the default, stale, formulaic templates to create your presentation, when you’re done your presentation will probably feel stale and formulaic.
12. Legibility matters
13. Dramatize — self-consciously, if necessary
If you treat your topic as if it is mundane and boring, your presentation will probably feel boring and mundane. However, if you draw out the conflicts, intrigue, or uniqueness of your topic, your presentation will have more emotional appeal.
Some topics like genocide, political scandal, or important scientific discoveries have inherent weightiness. Other topics like house soap or book reports might have less obvious dramatic angles. That’s okay. You can still dramatize. Just do it in a way that’s reflective, self-conscious, or humorous, which shows that you’re not out of touch with reality.
14. Try to follow a consistent theme and typeface
Give your presentation a professional consistent feel by using a consistent theme and typeface. As mentioned earlier, you should have subtle yet meaningful variations to your slides. What you don’t need is a million different zany colors and arrangements. Even just a bunch of different fonts can quickly give your presentation an unfocused feel.
Too many people dabble with their presentation.
“Look at this, isn’t this interesting? Now look at this. Isn’t that interesting, too?”
No! Stop. Don’t try to convince your audience that your presentation is interesting by showing a bunch of vaguely related, supposedly interesting stuff. Instead, have an interesting point to make, and make it well. As a pre-writing exercise, try finishing the following sentence: “When I am done presenting, my audience will agree that ___________.”
16. Avoid cheap-looking clipart
Avoid built-in system clipart, which usually looks cheap and unprofessional. With just a little bit of hunting online, you can find some much better stuff. For instance, try checking out OpenClipArt.org.
17. If possible, consider creating your own graphics
If you’re at all inclined, creating your own graphics will help to give your presentation an original feel. Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop are two well-known (and pretty bulky) tools for making graphics. I use the lighter-weight Intaglio to make the original graphics for Mind Like Child. Mapping and flowchart software can also be pretty helpful. On my Mac, I’ve always enjoyed OmniGraffle, though there are many options for both PC and Mac.
18. If you give handouts of some kind, give them out after your presentation
Otherwise, people focus on the item in their hands instead of listening to your presentation. I’m pretty sure this would be true whether you’re a kindergartener doing a simple show and tell or a PhD presenting for NASA. It’s pretty hard to compete with the engagingness of something you can actually hold in your hands.
19. In most cases, handouts should not be necessary
If your presentation is effective, your audience will remember the most important bits.
And if your audience does need notes for some reason, personally, I say having to take notes is preferable to having them gift-wrapped and handed out on a passive silver platter. Yes, your audience may have to look down to write, but they’ll remain mentally engaged in order to decipher what’s of enough importance to write down.
20. If you use multiple images in a row, consider off-centering them
I’ve seen this tactic used before to great effect. A little offset, that tiny touch of asymmetry, can break up monotony and keep your audience engaged.
21. Have the right hardware
22. If you have to use charts, try to simplify them
If your charts are really complicated, try to break them up into multiple parts. If it has to be one big chart, try to introduce the chart in stages.
23. Have a conclusion
Have a concluding slide, and verbally reiterate your argument, point, or thesis.
24. If you thank your audience, do it verbally
It’s more personal. Throwing the words “thank you” up on a slide feels weird and rather impersonal.
Notice that many of these tips are good guidelines to reduce distractions and let your organic enthusiasm shine. That enthusiasm will never come through if you’re afraid to put your own personality into your presentation. So if your presentation topic itself doesn't make you particularly enthusiastic, try thinking of yourself as an entertainer. Focus on how good it feels to help someone laugh, smile, or consider a new idea.
Do you have your own presentation tips and hacks? What software do you use? And how do you shape the story? Tell us with a comment.