Presentation skills: Creating a successful Powerpoint presentation

Back in January, I attended a joint presentation by the Canadian Public Relations Society (CPRS) and the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) and wrote the following review. This is the longer, unedited version. An edited version was published in the CPRS member newsletter, Essentials. I ran across it in my files the other day and thought it offered some great tips that I’ve since used many times. Enjoy!

Creating a Successful (PowerPoint) Presentation

By Rebecca Vaughan

On January 26, 2011, Martin Batten of Karo Group and Deborah Chatterton of Vancity offered valuable tips for both giving presentations and coaching those who give presentations.  The discussion often referred to presentations created in PowerPoint, but they acknowledged that there are other tools that are equally useful, such as Prezi or Keynote, and the tips they gave related to presentations in any software format.

Martin referenced Steve Jobs of Apple Corporation, an engaging and passionate speaker, and noted that Jobs often has key elements to his presentations:

  • simple text and graphics
  • humour
  • props that add interest and keep the focus on the speaker
  • an understanding of the venue and technology
  • pride in what he is presenting
  • knowledge of the audience
  • movement (as he walks around the stage)
  • eye contact and a smile for his audience

While we may not all be as charismatic as Steve Jobs, we can follow some simple steps to creating successful presentations: planning, providing structure, knowing the presentation venue, rehearsing often, and using visual aids effectively.

Planning

The number one mistake people make is launching into the presentation software to plan their presentation, which can restrict them to the software’s capabilities and limits. Instead, plan your presentation on a whiteboard, use coloured stickies, or do a mindmap with a colleague. “Find seeds of innovation in planning, not in software templates,” Martin said.

Your planning should include an understanding of your goal in giving the presentation —is a slide presentation the best way to present your information? Deborah suggested alternatives including a team-building exercise, speech, video, or some other format. “Unless your audience needs to hear what you have to say,” she said, “maybe a presentation isn’t the best way to communicate with them. If you’re going to stand before an audience, you should be their focus. What’s on the screen behind you should support you, not the other way around.”

Structure

Deborah and Martin discussed how your presentation should have a clear structure, be that a story with a clear beginning, middle and end; chronological order; question and answer; cause and effect; etc. Highlight your main points and return to them often. Remember that most people can remember seven (or fewer) points, so give your audience a handout summarizing your presentation.

The Venue

Always try to visit the room where you will be presenting beforehand. A few hours ahead of time will allow you to assess the room: are the chairs arranged optimally? Will the font size of your presentation be large enough? Is the sound system adequate?

If you are coaching someone else who will give the presentation, instruct them on where to stand. Standing to the left of the screen creates a natural left-right flow visually for the audience. Make sure the speaker is comfortable with the information and any props.

Rehearsing

Take the time to rehearse the entire presentation several times. This allows you to become more comfortable with the ebbs and flows and to address potential stumbling blocks. Winging it can end up looking disorganized.

Using Visual Aids Effectively

“Be the hero of your own show,” Martin reminded the audience. Use images that tell your story, but make sure your presentation does not overshadow you as the presenter.

To conclude the presentation, Martin and Deborah summed up their points with a list of “Dos and Don’ts:”

Images

  • Do use images that are metaphorical, not literal. The meaning is communicated by you.
  • Don’t use too many images, which can make slides too busy and distracting.
  • Do respect third-party intellectual property and credit images where appropriate.

Graphs and charts

  • Don’t import spreadsheets into your presentation – extract key information and represent it clearly and graphically instead.

Colour

  • Do use your corporate colour palette or corporate presentation template.
  • Don’t use too many colours. Choose 2-3 neutrals, and add 1-2 highlight colours.

Text

  • Don’t fill the slide with too much text, instead boil it down to one idea per slide and put extra information on a handout.
  • Do make sure bullets are parallel (e.g., each bulleted line begins with a verb in the present tense, or a noun).
  • Don’t proofread your own slides.

Fonts

  • Do use your corporate font, otherwise, stick to one or two font families. Sans serif fonts like Arial and Verdana work best on
    screen.
  • Don’t try to express symbolic meaning through fonts.
  • The optimum font size depends on the room and A/V setup.

Animation & Sound

  • Don’t! Animation is often distracting and can take over the presentation. Better to be the star of your own show; leave
    animation to the experts.
  • Don’t use kitschy sounds in presentations.

Humour

  • Do include subtle humour, but know your audience.
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