Surprisingly simple ways to make a better PowerPoint presentation

A suitably prepared presentation will leave attendees invigoratedand heading out of the room with ideas they want to put into practice.

There's nothing worse than sitting through a dull PowerPoint presentation. INTHEBLACK asked experts for tips and received some surprising answers about how to make better use of PowerPoint, bullet points and storytelling.

By Nina Hendy

Struggling to get your ideas across in a business presentation can impact what others think of your communication skills. Worst of all, loss of confidence can take a toll on your prospects for career advancement.

The best intentions and most innovative ideas are too often lost in a poorly executed presentation, says Tim Calkins, clinical professor of marketing at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and author of How to Wash a Chicken: Mastering the business presentation.

Professionals need to decide if a presentation is even necessary, understand their audience, find the story, create a strong presentation and deliver with confidence to have success, Calkins says.

If a presentation is required, there are a few simple steps to improving your skills, all of which will hold you in good stead well into the future.

Know your audience

Start by working out your objective and what your audience needs, says corporate educator and coach Sharon Ferrier, director of Persuasive Presentations.

Ensure you understand who will be in the audience, their knowledge of the topic, and what they are likely to expect.

There are different ways to present the same information, so how might your audience best digest the details?

“The biggest mistake often made is starting out preparing slides for the presentation, but that’s the last thing you should do,” Ferrier says.

“Work on the presentation first and make sure your slides are images, not words. Research shows this makes the information being presented more meaningful and memorable.”

"The first question you need to ask yourself is, do you need powerpoint at all?" Gabrielle Dolan

Also consider your purpose and whether you need to call the audience to action, stop doing something or learn from an educative presentation, advises speaker and author Gabrielle Dolan. Her book, Real Communication, will be published in May 2019.

Dolan says many people go into presentations unclear about what they hope to achieve. As a result, they include too much information, leaving the audience overwhelmed or bored.

When preparing, prioritise messages and ensure content is balanced with both facts and figures, stories and examples, she says.

Ask yourself three questions:
  1. Be clear on purpose – what will your audience get out of it?
  2. Prioritise – what are the three key messages you need to convey? 
  3. Is the content balanced with facts and figures and enriched with stories and examples?

On the day of delivery, arrive early to ensure the room is set as you want it. Some positive selftalk might help. Phrases like, “I can manage my nerves with breathing”, “I will be calm and enjoy this”, and “enjoy the process and it will be over soon” could help to put the task in perspective.

Hold the audience’s attention by involving them, such as by inviting questions or undertaking activities like brainstorming. Writing down ideas, role-playing or asking for volunteers from the audience to participate in some way can also help to personalise the process by pushing people to consider what they will do differently once the session is over.

Is powerpoint necessary?

Do not feel compelled to use PowerPoint unless it’s going to genuinely add to your presentation, Dolan advises.

“The first question you need to ask yourself is, do you need PowerPoint at all?” Dolan says. “If you do, make sure you use it properly.

“After 30 years of PowerPoint being used as the major presentation tool in business, we’re still using it incorrectly,” adds Dolan. “Small font, too much text, cheap stock images and graphs that are hard to read disengage the audience and make the presenter look lazy and unprofessional.”

Presentations often contain too many bullet points and insufficient stories to make the message memorable. “Bullet points enrage, stories engage,” Dolan says.

It’s also wise to steer clear of jargon and acronyms, too. “Don’t assume everyone understands the jargon and acronyms you’re using. When you do this, the audience will feel disconnected and disengaged.”

A suitably prepared presentation will leave attendees invigorated and heading out of the room with ideas they want to put into practice, rewarding both presenter and audience. 

10 steps to get your presentation started, structured and finished

  1. Work on your confidence fitness
  2. Work out your presentation’s objective
  3. Understand your audience
  4. Develop your topic
  5. Structure the presentation
  6. Make it persuasive
  7. Ensure delivery matches the material
  8. Come prepared to manage difficult questions
  9. Only use PowerPoint if it’s going to add something
  10. Practice your delivery 
Source: Sharon Ferrier, Persuasive Presentations

Read next: 7 ways to improve your business presentations (without using PowerPoint)


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