How to create PowerPoint Presentations so that your audience stays alive

Karen O'Donnell

Karen O'Donnell

Communication Coach/Mentor/Speaker

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How to create PowerPoint Presentations so that your audience stays alive

As a Presentation Coach, I get to work with amazing teams in great companies to create best PowerPoint presentations.  Companies that invest a lot of thought, time and money into their branding and their offices.  Teams that I work with, are effectively brand ambassadors, yet when we take a look at their PowerPoint, it doesn’t reflect the success of the company.

What I have found, is that the majority of presentations using PowerPoint, are ineffective, distracting and frustrating.  Part of my role as an effective presentation coach, is to assist clients in delivering stand out presentations with persuasive PowerPoint slides.

I have some advice to share with you.  Having seen and assisted many professionals with their slides, the following information is what I have found to be very effective.

Firstly, PowerPoint is a tool, not a crutch.  It is used to amplify your message not to explain it, that’s your job.  Nervous presenters rely on PowerPoint to deliver the presentation and this results in boring presentations.  A confident presenter wants to captivate the audience and may choose to use a selection of slides to amplify his message.  When you have carefully crafted your presentation, you will engage your audience and build trust with them.  You do not want to destroy that connection with technology, so keep it low key and ask yourself these following questions:-

  • Does it say what you are going to say – if so, dump it.
  • Is it there as a prompt, to help the speaker remember what comes now – if so dump it
  • Are you using it to entertain –  animation settings – if so dump it

Am I using this slide to help the audience, or to help myself? Does it help clarify your audiences understanding of the concept, if so, keep it.  The only reason to keep is if it helps your audience understand.  Slides are to help the audience, not the speaker.  Effective presentations are always focused on the audience, not the speaker.

Inexperienced presenters, when asked to give a presentation, tend to open up their slides and spill all their ideas onto it.  They frequently make the mistake of cramming too much data or words into their slides.

Firstly, work on your presentation, perfect this first, then turn to your slides.  At this stage, you have a firm structure to your presentation, you have tweaked the content and you have aced the delivery.  Now its time to ‘dress’ it with some effective uses of the slides.

What the brand colours of your company?

Slides are now ready for content.  What is your message – What is the one single idea that you want your audience to leave with.  Your core message should be less than 10 words.  In this way its easy for your audience to remember.  Like writing a speech, be focused on the benefits to your audience.  Make the presentation ‘YOU’ focused and less about ‘I’, otherwise you will lose their attention.

When you have completed your presentation, create a storyboard – this helps to map out your presentation…. Grab some post-its and each post-it represents a slide in your presentation.  Now quickly sketch a visual representation of your idea.   As much as possible, avoid using text and instead try to represent your idea visually because visuals are much more interesting, engaging and memorable than text.  This visual representation could be charts, photos, graphs or pictures.

The use of words should be minimal – only use keyword otherwise

  • Reading is tiring
  • distracts audience away from the speaker
  • Slides filled with words is boring and ineffective

According to research presented in the brilliant book Brain Rules by Dr. John Medina, three days after a presentation, most people only remember approximately 10% of what they heard. However, if you add a picture, recall shoots up to 65%.

Fill up your slides with large pictures and very little or no text. Use the images to serve as visual anchors for what you are saying.   A visual anchor – that is, it hooks the point you are making to your listener’s memory.

PowerPoint is a visual aid – it should do exactly that, it should aid your audience’s understanding of the topic. Your images should help your audience understand your topic better. For example, if you are describing a very complicated process, then using an image of the process is a good idea to make it easier for your audience to understand what you are saying.

An image is worth a thousand words, may be a cliché, though it’s true. Usually, a single image will convey an idea better than several paragraphs of text. When creating your slides, ask yourself, “Can what I am trying to say be demonstrated visually using a picture?” If it can, then ditch the text and use an image instead.

When choosing an image for your presentation, remember that people make decisions based on emotions, and then justify their actions using logic.

When using photos,

  • Use high quality
  • Be mindful of copywright issues, and
  • Don’t drag picture or reduce them as they may look stretched or pixelated.

Keep in mind the 3 second rule.  Your image should be large enough to grab your audiences attention and they should understand the slide within 3 seconds of looking at it.

What if you need to add in a few words – when you decide on which words, then choose your font carefully. The different shapes and sizes of fonts give the fonts different personalities, and these personalities affect the audience’s emotions on an unconscious level.  The font types are an essential element that adds to the overall visual appeal of your presentation.  What response are you looking to achieve?

Don’t be limited by the fonts that come pre-installed on your computer. You don’t have to choose the same old Ariel font every time you present. Instead, Google the term “free fonts” and you will find hundreds of websites offering free fonts for download.  There are a variety of fonts, when using more than one font for your presentation, make sure you use fonts with personalities that complement each other.  Simplicity and consistency are the keys to a good presentation.   A good rule of thumb is to stick to two fonts, one for titles and the other for subheading.

With your font size – take into consideration the size of the room and audience.  Make sure the person sitting at the back of the room can easily read your slide.  Varying font sizes ensures an interesting presentation though limiting each slide to show two different font sizes is usually enough.

People pay attention to uncommon things, and rotated texts are definitely uncommon. Consider adding a slight rotation to your text, if it fits with your message and it can make your text more exciting.

With fonts, we also need to consider their backgrounds.   The best backgrounds are the ones that are the simplest. Using a simple background keeps your text readable.   You want to have a contrast between the background and the images/text.   Consider the venue where you will be delivering your presentation.  If you are delivering in a dimly lit room, a dark background with contrasting bright images and fonts works best.  If you are delivering in a bright room, use a light background with dark images and fonts.

Slides can help improve information clarity and retention. Slides are very useful for displaying graphs, charts and other types of data. One powerful way to make your statistics even more interesting is to combine them with pictures.  In this way, it makes the slide more visually appealing; helps the audience interpret the significance and meaning of the statistic and makes the statistic more memorable.  However, keep it to one statistic per slide!

When giving presentations of more than 10 minutes, its vital that you change up the energy.  You can do this by getting your audience involved, perhaps an activity or you can do it by adding a video to your slides.  A short video will change the pace for you.  Be sure to embed the video into your slides.

Hit the B key so your laptop and the screen will blank the screen, use it when audience does not need to look at the screen.

Have fun designing your slides though keep in mind these guidelines!.

Karen O'Donnell, Communications Coach
Karen O'Donnell, Communications Coach

With a background in HR and experience over 20+ years, Karen has enjoyed working with a wide range of staff from diverse cultural backgrounds within national and international clients. Her avid interest in communication led her to Toastmasters where she received various awards including District Toastmaster of the year & Distinguished Toastmaster. Karen has developed and delivered several training programs in Communications and also Employee Engagement.

As an experienced Coach, Karen is passionate about the development of Emotional Intelligence. Corporations are seeing the positive impact it has on employees in the work environment. Assisting teams in becoming aware of actions and feelings and the impact they have on productivity is particularly effective. By enhancing team dynamics – teams can work towards meeting goals of the organisation in a mature and coordinated fashion.

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