Creating Quality Presentations Part One: First Steps


Death by PowerPoint

Every day, in conference rooms and offices around the world, people are dying. Death by PowerPoint is the commonly used term for presentations of endless slides, filled with dense text, complex diagrams and poor design.

The simple tips in this two-part post will help you transform presentations into tools of communication that will engage the audience, and provide a memorable accompaniment to your message.

The first post  will give you four simple steps to improve the overall impact of your presentations. The second post will focus on specific strategies to aid in the creation of effective presentations, as well as a tutorial for the PowerPoint alternative, Prezi. You can download the printable booklet of both posts here:http://tinyurl.com/presentationsthatwork .

You can view the presentation that accompanies this workshop here.

First Steps

First Steps

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo by Thomas Leth-Olsen: http://flickr.com/photos/thomasletholsen/6050828458/

Seth Godin, entrepreneur, author and public speaker admits that he has seen a lot of presentations in his career; and is adamant that most are poor. His simple rules for creating effective presentations have formed the basis of what I call ‘First Steps’.

Step 1: Keep Text Minimal

One of the common issues with slides in a presentation is ‘cognitive load’. Cognitive load is essentially how much your brain can take in. Our working memory is limited, and we process words and images separately, and therefore, when a speaker is presenting to an audience, and there is a slide full of text behind them, the audience must make a subconscious choice about which to pay attention to. They simply can’t take in both.  Seth Godin says absolutely no more than 6 words per slide; however if this is too rigid, at least try to limit the text to the main ideas. The audience came to hear the speaker. If all of the content is on the presentation, they could have just stayed at home and had the slideshow emailed to them!

Step 2: Use Inspiring Images

Now that the text on each slide is minimised, you have room to include amazing images! The content of the presentation is made richer when it is accompanied by images that engage the audience emotionally. An image smokestacks belching into the sky is far more memorable than a list of dot points about pollution. One key thing to remember when choosing images is that the image should illustrate the point you are making – design, don’t decorate. For example:

An example of a poorly designed slide, with too much text and 'decorative' clipart.

An example of a poorly designed slide, with too much text and ‘decorative’ clipart.

An example of a slide with better design. Limited text, and an image that illustrates the point of the speaker.

An example of a slide with better design. Limited text, and an image that illustrates the point of the speaker.

Step 3: Keep it Simple

PowerPoint is fitted out with many features that are not conducive to good design. Animations that have text swooshing across the slide, transitions that blink and flash and overdone backgrounds that distract from the text simply confuse your message. The best presentations are simple, clean and free of distractions.

Step 4: Put the Information in a Handout

Like this! The audience will be relieved to know that all of the information being communicated during the presentation will be theirs to walk away with at the conclusion. This frees them up to truly listen to the presenter – rather than scribbling down notes. It also means your slides do not have to contain all of the information, and can be used to engage the audience using the tips above.  It is important – vital! However, that it is handed out at the end of the presentation – otherwise the audience will simply read the document, and ignore the presenter.

Presentations which contain the entirety of information being delivered are known as ‘slideuments’. They are a terrible hybrid of document and slideshow presentation. While it may take a little longer to create a document and an accompanying presentation, the results are worth it in audience engagement and quality communication.

More is coming!

This has been an overview of the basics for creating a great presentation. The following post will detail more specific strategies for actually producing presentations.

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4 thoughts on “Creating Quality Presentations Part One: First Steps

  1. Pingback: Creating Quality Presentations Part Two: Nuts and Bolts | resourcelinkbce

  2. Pingback: Creating Quality Presentations Part One: First ...

  3. Pingback: Daily 08/11/2013 | READINGPOWER

  4. Pingback: How to Haiku! | resourcelinkbce

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