How to Save Your Audience from Death by PowerPoint
People experience all sorts of phobias. Our most common fears include clowns, being buried alive, snakes, spiders and public speaking. The thought of having to stand at a lectern in front of a huge audience might keep many of us up nights. However, sitting in the audience being subjected to “death by PowerPoint” can be almost as excruciating. We've all been there. Trapped in a hot, airless auditorium while a troop of corporate functionaries subject us to a collection of tedious presentations.
Too much and not enough
The presentations are too long, the slides too busy, the deliveries uninspired and awkward. Some of the most common errors you’ll see on a slide deck are lots of text and images, too many different fonts and point sizes, confusing charts, excessive use of transitions and animation effects. Many speakers fail to prepare, don't know the subject and just read from the slides. I've also sat through a number of presentations where the speaker starts by saying they're giving the presentation for someone else. This is usually the prelude to a trying hour for everyone.
Lessons from TV
Speakers can learn a lot from the people who make TV news and current affairs programmes. In a half-hour TV documentary the programme makers know that the audience has a limited attention span and is only capable of retaining so much information. So they usually focus on three salient points they want the audience to takeaway and share. These points might be key facts and figures or shocking, memorable images designed to provoke a strong emotional response. Repetition is used to drive home the main points.
Ideally your presentation will tell a story. Your preface sets the scene. Next, you tell your story making your main points as the narrative unfolds. Finally, you summarise and offer any conclusions. Using this simple format you will have repeatedly emphasised your main points. The people who make TV shows know a lot about their audiences and time-keeping. It really is worth your while spending a little time understanding who will be in your audience. Would you really give the same presentation to a group of overseas students that you would to a room full of accountants?
In comedy they say timing is everything. The world’s great comic talents understand and know how to read their audiences. They know when to pause, build tension and anticipation before they deliver the killer punchline. Timing is important for speakers too. If you're scheduled to speak just after lunch your audience might be feeling a little lethargic. Your presentation can energise and inspire them or put them to sleep. Keeping your presentation to an allotted time shows respect for your audience, consideration for other speakers and demonstrates your professionalism.
The 20 minute rule
Research from the University of North Texas suggests 20 minutes is the ideal length for most presentations. Of course, you might only get a 5 or 10 minute slot at your next speaking engagement, so preparation is everything. Content stuffing is one of the main reasons presentations overrun. A lack of practice is another.
Slides are supposed to provide the backdrop to your story rather than the pages from the book. Each slide should be a bold graphic that illustrates and emphasises the key point you wish to make. You cannot hope to keep your audience enthralled while they read slide after slide of bullet points rather than listen to you. You can distribute copies of your speaker notes at the end. Keep the text on each slide to a minimum, and only use transitions and animations when absolutely necessary. When in doubt, cut it out.
The question and answer session is an important element of any presentation. During the introduction to your presentation let your audience know when you will be taking questions. Try to anticipate questions and prepare your answers. Check that you understand a question by repeating it back, which will give you a moment to formulate your answer. Keep your responses short and to the point. Practice methods for dealing with any awkward questions, and freely admit when you don’t know the answer to something.
The brevity of a presentation can work for you. Questions left unanswered during your presentations will be immediately seized upon by your audience in the Q&A.
If you only intend taking questions at the end of your presentation suggest people write down their queries and save them for later. This will ensure they continue to listen, and provides you with a handy mechanism for capturing everyone’s feedback if you run out of question time. The question and answer session is a great opportunity to gain insights, share ideas and start building relationships.
Finally, you only have to watch a couple of TED Talks to understand the value of capturing a great presentation on video. Ken Robinson’s Ted Talk entitled ‘Do Schools Kill Creativity?’ has been viewed nearly 34 million times and counting. Video gives you enormous reach and possibilities. Search engines love video content, just ask Google. Email marketing remains one of the most effective channels available. Video can increase email click-thru rates dramatically. Today digital technology can transform your presentations into reusable assets from videos, webinars and white papers to infographics.
Need a little help? Do you need help to prepare a truly audience grabbing presentation or repurpose content for marketing activities?