Despite the fast-paced online nature of business these days, presentations are still a cornerstone of communication — be it for an internal meeting, industry conference or pitching to a potential client or investor.
But so often, audiences remember very little from presentations, since they’re commonly seen as a chore and thrown together in a slapdash kind of way with the main consideration being “get everything in!”
There is, however, a way to get great results and allow your creative juices to flow, too. Just follow our seven simple tips for amazing presentations and you’ll see your presentations improve drastically. And who knows, the experience of creating presentations may even become an enjoyable one.
Tip #1: Make it relevant to your audience
The best place to start your presentation is far away from a laptop. Simply give yourself a bit of time and space, and then lie back and close your eyes. This is because the first thing you need to do is take a moment to think about your audience and how to make the presentation relevant to them. So questions to consider should include:
- Why are they attending?
- What are they hoping to learn/discover?
- Why should they care about your presentation and what benefits could it bring to them?
A presentation should not be an opportunity to demonstrate how much you know, or even how amazing you/your company/your product is: it’s an opportunity to show your audience how much you can help them and why your presentation is really worth listening to. So if you can answer those questions, you’re off to a great start; use the answers to make sure that your first few slides show your audience that you “get” them by setting a scene that is relevant and beneficial to them.
Never forget the presentation is for your audience, not you. That’s actually a hard mental jump to make — one that many presenters never manage. So set yourself apart, and get your audience on your side straight away by looking at your presentation from their perspective, not from your own.
Tip #2: Define a clear structure
Your first few slides have “set the scene” and got your audience engaged and interested. Don’t lose them now by allowing your presentation to drift from point to point in a seemingly random and meaningless way. Use a clear, familiar structure to help your audience stay focused.
Reveal the structure immediately after the introduction: state all the key points you’re going to cover, and try to keep them to just three or four. Three is the ideal, having been scientifically revealed as an easy number of facts or opinions for most people to hold in their heads. If it really needs to be four or five points, so be it, but any more than that and you might want to consider reducing your content or merging some of the separate sections together.
The key points should flow logically from one to another, for example: 1) this is the problem, 2) these are the possible solutions and 3) this is what we’re going to do. Go through the key points one at a time, explaining and expanding on each point using examples your audience can relate to.
Like a traditional story, use an introduction, middle and end, but unlike a traditional story, you don’t want to leave any surprises to the end. Tell your audience everything they need to know as soon as possible. I’m sure you’ll have heard the mantra: tell them what you’re going to tell them, then tell them, then tell them what you’ve told them.
Tip #3: Tell stories to engage and connect
Dry facts and figures are guaranteed to put most people to sleep, but if you can present the facts and figures within an engaging story, drudgery turns to interest and the experience is transformed.
People like stories: stories trigger our imaginations and stimulate our emotions. Emotions in particular work to pin information to our memories more securely, so don’t be afraid to use elements of surprise, humour and tension/suspense where appropriate (so long as your message stays on point).
Stories also use a narrative structure familiar to us from childhood, so we don’t have to work hard to follow them. The result of using stories in your presentations is a far more enjoyable and memorable experience for the audience.
Tip #4: Visually signpost your slides
Everyone drifts off now and then. It’s a fact irrespective of how fascinating your presentation is. Signposts can help prevent drift and also pull a viewer back onto the right track if they do accidently meander away for a moment and lose their place. Visual signposts are cues that show your audience where they are in the presentation and should not be subtle. They need to be extremely clear in order to work, using shapes, colours and icons to almost “shout” to the audience about where they are along the presentation route.
For signposts to be most effective, reveal the basic structure of the presentation early on in a simple overview slide: show the audience the colours, icons and titles of each section here. Visual cues such as colours, shapes, icons and typefaces all work to make each section distinct and easy to recognise when they are repeated later. The aim is to make following the structure and direction of your presentation easy for your audience, so they can relax and focus on the content.
Tip #5: Give your headlines meaning
So that your audience isn’t trying to read a lot of text and listen to you at the same time, key messages need to be presented as clear, meaningful headlines. Research has revealed that people can read much more quickly than they speak, so this means that if you put too much text on your slides, the audience will be busy reading the words and not listening to you since your spoken words will be “out of sync” and lagging behind the written ones. A headline, however, can be read in just a few seconds, leaving the audience free to focus on what you’re saying.
Try to write the headlines in a natural voice and make each headline genuinely informative. A heading such as “We did well in 2012 because of our innovative ad campaign” will be helpful, while “Profit and Loss” is not.
Tip #6: Use images to improve communication
Visuals are an essential tool to clarifying your written and spoken messages. But make sure your visuals are clear, simple and directly relevant to the message: there isn’t time for your audience to decipher an obscure or abstract visual. The visuals obviously need to reflect your brand and the tone of the overall presentation, and they don’t need to be works of art to aid your message: they simply need to deliver clear, intelligent communication.
The visuals will not only clarify the words, but most importantly they’ll stimulate the audience’s visual channel, offering a second layer of understanding and knowledge retention. Scientific research has shown that when information is delivered through both visual and listening channels, it stays in memory up to six times longer than information delivered through words alone. Visuals in your presentation are much more than something to look at: they bring colour and clarity to your message, helping your audience to understand and remember for much longer.
Tip #7: Animate to avoid cognitive overload
Sometimes you’ll want to use a number of different visuals on one slide to explain your message as fully as possible. But this can confuse an audience who won’t know where to look first; how can they make sense of such an overwhelming visual array? This is where animation comes into its own.
Using staggered animation, you can introduce one visual at a time, at a calm, measured pace, so that the audience is guided through the visuals in the correct order without suffering from cognitive overload. You can also use animation to emphasise key elements, ensuring that the audience definitely gets the point you’re trying to make.
Follow these seven tips for great presentation design and your audience (and your boss) will be both grateful and impressed.
7 Tips for a Memorable Presentation:
Tip #1: Make it relevant to your audience.
Tip #2: Define a clear structure.
Tip #3: Tell stories to engage and connect.
Tip #4: Visually signpost your slides.
Tip #5: Give your headlines meaning.
Tip #6: Use images to improve communication.
Tip #7: Animate to avoid cognitive overload.