Beyond PowerPoint: Livening Up Presentations

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Whether you actually like speaking in a public forum, or the mere thought of doing so fills you with dread, chances are good that at some point you’ll need to present at a meeting, event, or conference. Rather than reading off your PowerPoint slides—which is liable to send a portion of your audience to sleep—tap into these tried and true strategies for livening up your presentation.

A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words

It can be tempting to write down every single talking point on your slides, so that you can just read them off the screen; resist that urge. Eileen Uchitelle, a programmer at Basecamp who’s spoken on everything from remote work to phishing, recommends limiting yourself to five words per slide.

Use too many words, she said, and “people will be listening to your talk and reading at the same time, and that’s not good.” Instead, display a few simple words your audience can grasp quickly, and fill in any gaps verbally.

You may also want to consider using slides with pictures and charts instead of words. Uchitelle likes to find memes or pictures that represent the emotions she’s trying to convey (Grumpy Cat is a well-used but reliably funny way to indicate frustration, for example). This strategy helps the audience relate to the content of your talk.

If your presentation includes complex topics, Uchitelle recommends breaking concepts up into multiple slides so that it’s visually interesting; dense slides will make the audience’s attention drift.

Style Matters

Fonts are important in presentations, so tap into Google’s font library instead of using the default fonts on Keynote or PowerPoint. “It’s fun to pick different fonts and play with them, ones that have different weights so you can emphasize different parts of your text,” Uchitelle said.

Make sure to use contrasting colors, as well. Projectors can render a slide’s colors far more muted than on your laptop, so steer away from image and text shades that are too similar to those used in your background.

Timing Is Everything

Staying on one slide for too long can bore your audience; flipping through them quickly while you’re telling a story can be distracting. Think about how you want your presentation to flow, and use that to inform how much time you spend on each slide.

Know Your Audience

Before your presentation, think about who’ll be in the room, their level of technical expertise, and the questions they’re likely to have. Adjust your presentation accordingly.

PhosLabs founder and PL Coaches co-founder Raoul Encinas, who speaks about topics such as project leadership and workplace collaboration, believes that empathy is a big part of putting together a presentation. “As I think about the experience that the attendees are going to have, I try to have empathy towards what their experience is going to be like,” he suggested.

We’ve all been on the receiving end of boring lectures; tapping into our own experience can help guide us in creating presentations that actually keep people awake.

Be Passionate; Be Vulnerable

To that end, Encinas recommends tapping into your own passion, identifying what’s most important about what you’re discussing, and displaying a certain level of vulnerability.

“When the speaker tells his or her story and has a level of authenticity to it, it really humanizes it, especially if that story relates to what you’re talking about.” When describing his own journey as a project leader, Encinas doesn’t shy away from describing his own mistakes, and is visibly passionate about the topic: “I geek out about project leadership. It tells everyone in the audience that it’s okay if you also care about this.”

So long as you tap into that passion, and use it in your presentation, you can make pretty much any topic interesting. “As a technical person, it can be hard sometimes to be vulnerable and express those feelings, like, ‘I love iOS’ or ‘I geek out about the seven-layer OSI model,’” he added, “or whatever your thing is that you think is really important, why you love Perl or why you hate JavaScript.”

Preparation Is Key

Uchitelle, who recommends tapping into the tips on Speaking.io, estimates that she spends around 20 hours to prepare for each talk she gives. While not everyone will be able to put in that amount of work, it’s always better to prepare in advance than to try to cram at the last minute.

Image Credit: Andrey_Popov/Shutterstock.com

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