10 TIPS FOR EFFECTIVE PRESENTATIONS: Ending PowerPoint Misery & Misuse

Bad PowerPoint Presentations – The Root of the Pain
So far during your education and career how many hours have you sat through boring presentations with text-laden PowerPoint slides or busy graphics? You sneak peeks at your cell phone to stay occupied while the presenter drones on and on – at times reading ALL the text on his slide. Or, you doodle mindlessly on your notepad just to survive. One study shows that 41% of people would rather endure the pain of a trip to the dentist than sit through a PowerPoint presentation! So, no, it is not your imagination that most presentations are painful! Truly effective presentations are few and far between, and solid presentation skills are direly needed!

A Scarcity of Effective PowerPoint Presentations
Things got so bad at Amazon that Jeff Bezos famously banned PowerPoint from his organization, replacing it with 6-page memos that are read prior to meetings. In case you haven’t heard – 30 million PowerPoint presentations are created daily, so countless people are sharing your pain across the globe! Effective PowerPoint presentations are scarce, which means with the right presentation skills training or coaching, you have a clear opportunity to stand out from competitors and others!

Studies show 41% of people dread PowerPoint presentations, but PowerPoint is not the problem! PowerPoint is misused by most people.

Grand Canyon-Sized Presentation Ruts
Our teams coach many Fortune 500 leaders to help them improve their presentations and delivery skills; they openly admit they have fallen into major presentation ruts – Grand Canyon-sized ruts! During our presentation coaching sessions, they confess to churning out poorly designed presentations that send their audiences into zombie-like trances. Despite being experts in their fields, these leaders realize they are missing opportunities to influence people – by misusing PowerPoint and other presenting tools. Yet, PowerPoint is widely preferred by organizations, accounting for 95% of the presentation software market. Should the software be blamed? No! Leaders tell us there are 3 main reasons for their misuse of PowerPoint:

  1. A lack of time to design thoughtful and compelling presentations
  2. A lack of better presentation strategies to keep audiences engaged
  3. Corporate PowerPoint “template rules” that stifle presentation designs and creativity

So, PowerPoint is not the problem – it is how it is used that is the problem!

Fortune 500 leaders say they’ve fallen into ruts with PowerPoint. They know they are boring their audiences.

Ending the Misery & Misuse of PowerPoint!
Creating an effective presentation is like a creating a masterful music score – you have to plan for high, middle and low points to keep things moving and interesting. You can’t have all highs or all lows. You should also create a melody that matches how people naturally learn and design a tempo that will keep them interested throughout your presentation score. In short, you have to keep things flowing and make it all about your audience if you want to influence their thinking. When you start using strategies to truly engage an audience, it can greatly boost your professional brand and influence. How can you pull yourself out of the presentation rut? Just follow these 10 top presentation tips to stop causing pain for your audience – and keep them engaged!

Think of PowerPoint as a music score; use presentation formats that keep your audience engaged.

1. PowerPoint & Passion
First, it is important that you understand what PowerPoint is – and what it is not! It is not a substitution for the number one element that determines your success as an influential presenter! Your passion greatly determines whether or not you are able to move an audience toward new ways of thinking and behaviors. During our presentation skills training and coaching sessions, we help leaders identify how they are emotionally connected to their presentation topic. This is crucial, because your audience knows within the first 20 seconds if you are passionate about your presentation topic! PowerPoint is but one of dozens of presentation tools you should use to convey your passion and connect with your audience at an emotional level; this is why you should continually pursue ways to advance your presentation skills.

Attention spans are shrinking! This is why you must design PowerPoint presentations that keep people engaged and interested.

2. Breaking “State”
Attention spans are melting faster than ice-cream on a fiery Texas road in August. Some studies say an audience can stay tuned to your presentation for 5 minutes and others put that time at about 10 minutes. If you go with the 5-minute study, that means the average audience will tune out 84% of your 30-minute speech! This is why during our presentation coaching sessions, we show people how to build in “state” breaks. Breaking “state” is similar to cleansing the palette; it allows you to establish a “reset” button with your audience as you transition from one presentation idea or topic to another. There are dozens of options on how you can achieve these “state” changes during your presentations: you can use humor breaks or famous quotes that support your overall presentation theme; you can share current events that support key ideas in your presentation. Another option is to “PreFrame” a trivia game related to your presentation topic and then intersperse trivia questions throughout your presentation. There are numerous options! Breaking “state” is essential to keeping your audience engaged and rebooting their attention spans!

PowerPoint templates should keep your audience engaged and you should use presentation formats that incorporate storytelling, props and other engagement methods.

3. Bad & Boring PowerPoint Templates
Many of the Fortune 500 leaders we coach tell us that they typically present to the same people throughout the year. When you regularly present to the same people, it is important that you use a wide variety of presentation templates and themes. If your slide decks become predictable, then your audience expects nothing new – just the same old, same old presentations. So, keep your presentations fresh! A presentation should be packaged as a gift to your audience. Your slide templates and presentation formats are key parts of the packaging. You do not buy a gift for a good friend and just hand it to them. No! You take the effort to buy some tissue paper and a gift bag to make it special. Presentation packaging matters – a variety of PowerPoint templates and presentation formats matter! Recently, a Fortune 100 group asked us to design several compelling presentations to help them roll out a new initiative. We convinced them to loosen some of their PowerPoint template “rules”. They were shocked by the difference the fresh templates and formats made – and the final presentations were a HUGE hit!

The biggest misuse of PowerPoint is too much text! Our presentation experts call this data dumping!

4. Text-Bloated PowerPoint Slides
You have seen them many times in your career – text-bloated slides! In most organizations, it is not unusual to see multiple lines of text or busy graphics crammed onto every inch of a slide. Audience members are smothered in mountains of text dumped on them like a big garbage truck unloading at the landfill. When you fill slides with maximum text or graphics, you are forcing the audience to choose where to put their attention! Once they start looking at all of that content on your slide, they hear even less of what you are saying. You are forcing them to split their attention! Studies show on a good day, people may remember only 25 to 50 percent of what you say. So, use much less text and graphics – and free up your audience to stay engaged with you! They will hear more of what you have to say!

5. The PowerPoint Reading Rant
Odds are that you have sat through presentations where presenters read every line of text on their PowerPoint slides! They used the text as a teleprompter! Unfortunately, you and everyone else could read their teleprompter, too. This is a painful experience, and if you do this often, it will also damage your professional brand. People will do their best to avoid your presentations and meetings. Your audience can read the text much quicker than you can read it, so it is a waste of their time and yours. All your audience can think is, “Please! Let me get out of this room!” Never use slides as a teleprompter.

6. Cheesy PowerPoint Visuals
The world is awash in great visuals, so it is a mystery how so many corporate presenters seem to find photos that are boring, “corporate” and cheesy. Some people need help choosing compelling visuals. Therefore, if your organization has a graphics group or allows you access to a professional presentations consulting group, seek their help! First, identify the key points you want to visualize. Then, consider numerous photos for each key point. Finally, identify the one that really captures the essence of what you want to communicate. Many organizations have subscriptions to stock image providers such as shutterstock.com or dreamstime.com; they offer a range of compelling visuals, illustrations and videos. Also, mix things up and avoid always choosing literal photos. Conceptual photos and visuals often have much more impact!

Color choice is key to an engaging PowerPoint design! Color is important to your overall storyline. Culture fit is also a key consideration for choosing PowerPoint colors.

7. Emotion-Evoking PowerPoint Colors
We live in a visual world and colors evoke a range of powerful emotions in your audience. This is why PowerPoint colors should be strategically chosen to support your presentation goals and engage your audience. Just as your choice of words can make someone feel heavy, light or neutral, the same is true of the colors used in your presentation. It is also important to consider your audience’s culture when planning presentation color schemes. For example, we were designing a major PowerPoint presentation for an audience in China and we chose bright reds and golds as the primary colors. In the West, red is associated with passion or anger, but in China, it is associated with prosperity. Your color choices are part of your storyline – so choose them with purpose! There are other considerations, too: colors should be pleasing and not be distracting; they should not negatively impact readability; colors should blend well with other elements and they should evoke the intended audience emotions.

8. The Presentation Freak Out
There is a standard truth about presenting – things can and will go wrong from time to time. Just ask Hollywood movie director, Michael Bay, who stormed off the stage when his teleprompter bombed during a Samsung press conference. Many still recall Apple’s Steve Jobs throwing a camera that was not working during his presentation. Chances are you have witnessed a presenter expressing frustration when PowerPoint or other technology has failed. Stay cool when things go wrong – laugh, swim downstream and always have a backup plan. The more you present, the more backup plans and options you should have waiting in the wings. When things fail, use the “break state” strategy. Just call for a time out; ask the audience to take a few minutes to visit with their seat mate or take a break while you sort things out.

9. The PowerPoint Dance
Many people do an awkward “dance” with PowerPoint when they present. But, the dance rules are simple: your dance partner is your audience – NOT the slides! Some presenters keep looking at each slide, even after they have already explained the content. Others completely ignore their slides and look at their laptop screen. Some even stand in front of their slides as if they are playing dodgeball with their audience. We were recently working with a scientist to help his team roll out some exciting, new research. He has a professor-type presenting style and he wanted to direct the audience’s attention to various points of a graphic. But, his body positioning in relation to the graphic was awkward and it forced him to turn his back on the audience. We showed him how to maintain a physical connection with the audience and interact with the graphic in a more meaningful way. The simple rules are as follows:

• Position yourself to one side of your PowerPoint and feel free to switch sides at times to connect with various audience segments.

• Direct the audience’s attention to each new slide and clearly explain what the slide is illustrating. Once you’ve accomplished this task, return your focus to your audience and have good reasons when and if you direct their attention to the slide again.

A good presentation coach can show you how to effectively engage with your PowerPoint slides. Most people do an awkward dance with their PowerPoint!

10. Presentation Transitions & White Space
If you have ever been involved in the creation of newsletters or marketing pieces, you have been exposed to the idea of “white space”. The more each PowerPoint slide has room to breathe, the easier it is for your audience to absorb the ideas you are presenting. So, limit how much information you put on each slide and include plenty of “white space”. Another use of white space is reserving some slides as dividers to move from one idea to another. Just as a good book has chapter dividers, so should your presentations. Instead of just diving in to the next idea or topic with another text or graphic-intensive slide, set aside some slides as chapter dividers to create white space for your audience.

Effective Presentations – No Pain. Just Gain.
There is nothing more rewarding than delivering a presentation that your audience greatly values! PowerPoint is one of many tools you should be using to create compelling presentations. If you are highly motivated and willing to put in the time required to be a masterful presenter, you can learn how to effectively use dozens of other tools to keep your audience engaged and asking for more! And, people will prefer your presentation over a painful root canal!

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2 Replies to “10 TIPS FOR EFFECTIVE PRESENTATIONS: Ending PowerPoint Misery & Misuse”

  1. Very well written article, and a great reminder to all of us on how to create effective presentations in the business environment.

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