Part I of our article dealt with the mechanics of how to set up an effective slide. Here we deal with YOU, the presenter.
1. Show It, Don’t Say It
One of the most important things you can do is to make your point clear with the proper graphics, illustrations, and/or images. There’s a reason for the saying "a picture is worth a thousand words." Which is more effective: 1) hearing about the numbers of things you're comparing, or 2) actually seeing the disparity between the two using a bar chart, with one line twice the size of the other? Make (tasteful!) use of PowerPoint’s SmartArt graphics styles to deliver your message. They can all match your template and they’re editable too.
2. Don’t Read From the Screen
Whether you are pitching to a prospective client, giving a lecture, or promoting yourself, keep in mind that your audience is there for your unique point of view or expertise. They don’t want to be read to. Make your point with a minimal amount of top-line text, and then explain why it is important, in your own (though rehearsed) words. Maintain eye contact with your audience, and tell them something they’d never know unless they heard it from you. This point goes hand in hand with our next point below—this is not storytime.
That’s not to say that you have to memorize your entire presentation. Don't. Use the Notes panel at the bottom of your presentation screen to prompt you, while it stays hidden from the viewer.
3. Don’t Give the Whole Plot—or the Handouts—Away
This isn’t quite as far-fetched as one would think; entire presentations are often distributed in advance, and then read out loud during the presentation (see point 2 above). I’m not going to tell you to never have handouts, they can serve to provide additional content, or resources for your audience that would have taken up too much time during the presentation. For example, if you use a bar chart to illustrate a point, the handout could include the study (or where to find it) that created the bar chart results. Some points to keep in mind per handouts:
- If your presentation requires a lot of detailed and complex points, provide the handout after the presentation, for your audience to refer to and share.
- If you want to make sure that people can follow along with you as you’re giving the presentation, or to take notes, then give a simplified version of your presentation listing each of your points and include space for them to keep notes.
- As we’ve mentioned before about animation and sound, ask yourself if it adds to the presentation, rather than distracts. Does having a printed handout make a significant and valuable addition to your presentation? If you can’t honestly answer yes, then please save a tree and your ink cartridges. Nobody will miss the printout. I promise.
4. Know Your Audience and Your Viewing Platform
One presentation size does not fit all. Each presentation should be tailored specifically to the audience and setting. If you’ve ever watched a TED talk, notice how the screens are light on text, but the text is distinct. It has to be seen from the back row, as well as being projected on a large screen (and later on a small screen on your computer). Some items you might want to keep in mind for your next presentation:
- How will this be displayed? If it’s via projector, chances are your slides will show lighter than if you’re presenting right off your computer screen. If it’s on a huge screen, your low-res images* that looked fine on your laptop may look bitmapped when blown up.
- How large is your audience, and the room? Will people in the back row be able to read your text? Are you doing a workshop for a small but select group? You want to make sure everyone has a premium experience.
- Who is your target audience? Students? Colleagues? A prospective client? What kind of connection do you hope to make with your presentation?
- Will it be a webinar?** Can you give a presentation online? Heck yes. But remember that nobody will be able to see your facial expressions, and you can’t see theirs. Make sure to stop periodically and ask if anyone has questions to help gauge the audience reaction. Then you can tweak your delivery on the fly.
5. Evoke an Emotion
Previously I mentioned that this is not storytime. That’s only partially true. They are not there to be read to, but telling your audience a story that grabs them and gets them emotionally involved is a different thing altogether.
What can you do to engage your audience at the gut level? I’m not talking about exploitative or shocking imagery, or explicit anything. What can you do to evoke a feeling in your audience that actually makes them invested in what you’re saying? What can you show your audience to prove what you’re saying is true?
The great marketing and communications guru Seth Godin once said, “Talking about pollution in Houston? Instead of giving me four bullet points of EPA data, why not read me the stats but show me a photo of a bunch of dead birds, some smog and even a diseased lung? This is cheating! It’s unfair! It works.”
Incidentally, while writing this article, I spoke with my sister who’s in the midst of giving a series of presentations for six different groups over two days. I checked with her that she wasn’t reading from the slides: “I talk to the slide, not read the slide itself.” Or giving handouts: “Nobody pays attention to you when you do. I give them pen and paper. No more. No soup for you!” And the outcome: “I got applause on the last one so I think I've got it down.” I’d say she does!
**And again. I could write a book.