If you are in a professional role or a business owner chances are you spend a lot of time making and delivering presentations. Depending on the setting the presentation could be to present status of your business operations with metrics and charts, or it could be a strategic plan that outlines your vision and roadmap for the future. It could be to talk about the organization and would contain org charts, or it could be a sales and marketing presentation with market trends, customer insights, sales data and competitive strategy.
Whatever be the reason, presentations have become the universal tool to deliver content, messages and convey important information. And while there are a number of other ways you can communicate a message or data, such as an excel spreadsheet or a Visio process map or a project plan, chances are that these pieces of information or charts end up getting embedded in a PowerPoint presentation in the final rendering.
And therefore, given the ubiquitous usage of presentations you end up spending a considerable amount of time building the presentation itself in advance of actually using it for a meeting. Estimates have shown that to make a presentation for a 30-minute meeting, or about 15 content slides, one needs to spend anywhere between 10 and 20 hours to make the presentation. You are probably going, that is a lot; and believe me it is not over estimated given the time you spend in multiple reviews of the presentation and then the time spent in the aesthetics of the presentation.
So if you are like the typical mid to senior management professional who makes around 5 presentations a month, you are looking at spending pretty much 25 to 50 percent of your time in making presentations. WOW… No wonder managers don’t have time for their teams! Now this is for new content that typically involves some research, analysis and a synthesis of information to prepare the presentations. Often you may end up creating different versions of a certain standard presentation to suit the audience, for example a sales deck that could be customized easily from a standard set of marketing collateral. And that takes much less time.
Time is one element to consider, the other is the effectiveness of the presentation itself in being able to convey the message you intended. If your audience is spending more time with their phones checking their messages, that is a sure sign of your presentation not making a connect with them. If on the other hand your audience is using their phones to take pictures of your presentation or making notes, you know the message is getting across. I am sure you have encountered both situations. The key is to make each presentation stand out – and more importantly that you spend the least amount of time making it.
If the above describes you then you don’t want to miss out on the tips that are presented in this article. These pointers will help you make more effective presentations that will connect with your audience, or help you win a deal, or simply to communicate your business strategy to your company. These tips are also designed to make it a faster process of making the presentation material itself. So you spend the least possible time on making presentations that deliver.
1 … Design before you build
Before you actually put anything down on PowerPoint it is a good idea to first create the design on paper or on a whiteboard. The idea is to get your story clear and that includes the message you want to communicate and the content that you will need to build the presentation. It also helps you create a flow in the presentation to be able to avoid creating speed breakers in the presentation. At this stage you want to use as many visuals as you can to create the storyboard.
Draw out large rectangles that represent slides in your presentation. And then fill these boxes with the message for that slide and an outline of the content you will need to build in order to convey that message. Number the boxes so as to get the flow of the presentation and change the numbering as required to get the best flow possible.
At this stage you may also want to write down what is the source of the content for that slide. If it is someone in your team then write their name, write your name if you will build the content for the slide. And remember if you are making the presentation, the best person to build the slides is you. if you are going to outsource it to someone in your team or an outside marketing agency, then you would need to budget for time reviewing their content and also budget for time in preparing for delivering the presentation.
#2 … the power of 3
The Rule of Three or Power of Three is a technique taught in most marketing classes and basically suggests that things that come in threes are more effective in communicating a message. Three choices or messages resonate most with the brain and therefore the brain is most able to recall those messages at a later point in time.
Translated that to making a more effective presentation it means you should have no more than 3 messages or points you want to convey on a slide. A badly made presentation will have up to 10 bullet points with multiple messages in them, leaving the audience completely confused and the message lost.
So, 3 main bullets on a slide and not more than 2 lines for each bullet. You don’t need to write out the entire story in the slide, just pointers to the message you are communicating and then you speak about it in your talk. It is also a good idea to call out the fact that you have 3 points to make on a particular slide. That keeps your audience’s attention with you until they have heard all 3 points.
#3 … Insight not Data
Ever so often one sees presentations with tons of charts and data in them leaving the audience with a question “so what?”. Use data to convey a message and make sure you spell out that message or the insight from the data on the slide. That way the chart becomes an aid to conveying that insight. It also means that everyone in the audience gets the same message, the one that you wanted to convey to them.
If you combine this tip with the second one, it becomes a powerful way of communicating the message by breaking up the insights into 3 points and having the backup data or charts on the slide as well to support in the form of a visual. So any time you have a slide full of charts with little or no text, ask yourself what you would make of the slide if you were in the audience.
#4 … Have mercy on the audience
One of the misguided self-beliefs of many a manager is that their importance in the organization is measured by the number of slides in their PowerPoint presentation file. They believe, utterly in error, that by sharing a 100 page deck the audience would be wowed by their knowledge of the subject or by the importance of the message they are conveying.
If you are one of them, please stop in pay attention. Don’t indulge in “death by slides”. General rule of thumb is to spend 2 to 3 minutes on a slide and so for a 30-minute presentation you should have no more than 15 slides. That doesn’t include title slides, section headers, and the unnecessary “thank you” slide. The 15 slides are pure content slides that you will spend time talking to your audience.
Also don’t make audience read your slides, or for that matter read the slides yourself. Slides are usually sent in advance of a meeting or shortly thereafter, so your audience will have a copy of your slides. During your presentation use your slides for your talk, to help you convey the message you want to convey. Well made slides also help you in remembering your talk and so there is no need to prepare a script or long notes of what you are going to say
#5 … Engage the audience
You may have heard of the cliched phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words”. It is probably most relevant while making a presentation. Use this to your advantage. Your audience is best engaged with a picture that brings out emotions in them. For example if you are talking of scaling your company, using an image of Mount Everest conveys the same message beautifully. Of course you will back that emotion with insights and data on what the company needs to actually do in order to scale but anchoring your audience’s attention is critical.
Use large images to capture attention and place them on the deck that flows with the design. Maintain consistency. And last but not the least, use humour in the presentation. There is no substitute for a little humour in any situation as it lightens up the mood, refocuses audience attention and helps you deliver even the toughest of messages. Common forms of humour are the usage of a comic strip, but don’t just paste the comic and expect the audience to read but call out the humour in a subtle way.
These are some of my best practices I have picked up in my several years of making pitches. As one of my managers once wryly said “life is a pitch”…!