Doing a successful presentation is all about captivating your audience. Whether you’re pitching to your fellow staff or a venture capitalist, you need to be engaging.
Powerpoint is still the go-to programme – it’s simple and effective. But too many of us slip into the habit of creating generic presentation, the aim being to power on through them rather than creating a powerful impression.
If you’ve got a big pitch coming up or are in a trade where you have to get regular presentations, here are some ways that you can create a presentation your audience won’t forget and become a Powerpoint master.
Structure your presentationBefore you start eagerly churning out those slides, take a moment to structure your presentation on paper. This will stop you waffling on or forgetting important facts. The most reliable method of structuring your presentation is to take the GPS approach – work out where your audience are on your chosen topic, work out how much knowledge on the topic they should have by the end of your presentation (your destination) and gradually guide them there slide by slide. Give enough information for them to clearly follow but not so much information that it feels like you’re meandering or getting to the point too slowly.
Less text, more imagesNobody wants to be reading huge walls of texts during a presentation. Your pitch should be effort-free for your audience. A great way to ensure this is to replace text with images and diagrams. For numeric data, use bar graphs and pie charts. For processes, use flow charts. For images and people, attach photographs and pictures to your slides to give the audience a more clear visual understanding. As well as walls of text, you should also try to avoid spreadsheets, hand picking out information and putting it into a more easily understandable form such as a line graph or a pie chart.
Choose the right font and coloursAny text that you do use needs to be readable. Illegible frilly fonts and faint or clashing colours will put your audience off. A safe bet is to keep your text black – this will show up against any background including any corporate slide template that you may be having to use (unless of course the background is black, in which case use white).
It’s important to keep colours in tone with your presentation. Different colours invoke different emotions (as this web page discusses in detail). Reds for example are quite a fiery colour that represent importance, aggression and passion, whilst blues represent calm and trust. If you’re trying to excite your audience or make them aware of a danger you don’t want to use blue, just as if you’re trying to create a sense of peace and calm, you shouldn’t use red.
When it comes to fonts, you want to make sure you keep a professional tone (no comic sans or papyrus!), but also remain engaging. Fonts like Helvetica, Garamond, Futura, Gill Sans and Rockwell are good strong choices. Keep these consistent throughout your presentation. You should also pick a suitable font size that people can read from a distance – take into account the screen you will be presenting from and where the audience will be (you may not know this at the time – but bigger is generally better).
Use exciting graphicsIt’s best to stay tasteful when it comes to slide effects and transitions (and gif and clip art should also be avoided as they can come across tacky). But that doesn’t mean you can spice up your presentation graphically.
More and more presentations are using Youtube videos to support their information. This could be a news story or an interview with someone important to your research. Videos are great at engaging your audience, but you should be absolutely certain that you will have Wi-Fi during the presentation. Alternatively, you may be able to download videos and embed them.
You can also download advanced graphics to make your presentation look more modern and professional. There are many companies offering user interface design and implementation that can provide you with exciting 3D graphs and creative layouts that can excel your presentation beyond it’s usual Powerpoint capabilities.
Make your goal clear from the beginningOf course none of the aesthetics matter if the content isn’t strong. The topic has to be engaging, starting with a title or introductory page that immediately sets the goal of the presentation. The most common way to do this is to open with a question – one that hooks your audience. For example, ‘What the hell is cloud technology?’ or ‘Is this the future of accounting?’. Another way is to provide a gripping statement that doesn’t make much sense on its own, but becomes clear by the end of your presentation such as ‘Stop travelling to meetings’ for a talk on getting businesses to take up video-calling. Make your audience curious and build up suspense, and they will hang onto your every word.
Establish your credibilityOnce you’ve lured people in with a bold opening question or statement, you then need to confirm why you’re an authority on the subject at hand. People want to know that you’re a credible source, so give some background information on you. You don’t have to list every job of your career and every exam result - just a few tiny pointers that as to why you’re the expert. This is particularly important when pitching to an investor. Credibility creates trust and people aren’t going to part with their money if they don’t think you have the know-how to make their investment worthwhile.
Support your presentation with sourcesThroughout the presentation, you should let your audience where you did your research, so that they know that you haven’t simply plucked information out of thin air. This is much like writing an essay at school, only you don’t have to be quite as strict with the page numbers and dates. Take your sources from a wide array of places – this could include quotes from famous figures and scholarly research. If a source isn’t entirely reliable, be honest with your audience and let them know your doubts. The internet has so much information thrown onto it every second that it is becoming harder and harder to establish the truth. Be honest and be liberal – your audience will respect you enough simply for doing the research.
End on a high noteThe way you end your presentation is just as important as how you begin it. You should aim to offer a conclusion but also offer future plans and food for thoughts. The end of a presentation is also time for questions. There’s no need to write a final slide that says ‘any questions???’. Either end on another question for someone else to research, or a quick bullet point lists of everything you covered in the presentation so that people can look back and remember previous questions they may wanted to ask throughout.
Sometimes it pays to have a sheet of facts with you – stuff that may have been too vast or complex to fit into the presentation but might be good to refer to if you get any questions. Be honest about the questions that you can’t answer and don’t try to blag your way through – if too obvious this will only damage the entire credibility of everything you’ve just presented.
Talk to the audience not the PowerpointWhilst presenting you shouldn’t be reading off your slides – most of the information that will be the core of your presentation needs to be in your head. The audience will not engage with you if you are not looking and interacting with them. Public speaking doesn’t come easy to anyone – whether you’re a motivational speaker or politician, you’re still going to get some nerves before making the speech. Quite often these nerves show that you consider the event important, so convert them into enthusiasm. Some people may prefer to act or perform their presentation as if taking on a character. Others may prefer to take a natural approach as if conversing with friends at the pub. Find the most suitable method for you. Thousands of people across the country invest in the help of public speaking coaches – don’t be afraid to do the same.
Keep rehearsingThe number one rule of anything in life is practice. Don’t go into a presentation without having rehearsed it, as good as you may think you are on your feet. Whilst practicing your presentation you may notice certain parts that don’t flow, or information that it is difficult to remember. The more you rehearse your presentation the more you can perfect, preventing any embarrassing or frustrating moments in which you may forget a figure or have to skim past a slide.
Rehearsing will also give you a clear understanding of timing, allowing you to slow down your presentation if it is too short, or take parts out if it is too long.