Give Great Presentations Despite Using PowerPoint

This is one of my favourite courses to teach. I get people to evaluate which slides work and which don’t. They look at their own experience of great presentations. And, believe it or not, it is never to do with slides full of bullet-pointed text appearing on screen. Here are my 3 key elements to make your presentation great:

1) Less is More

My moment of revelation came ten years ago in a presentation from Guy Kawasaki. His talk was on “ten ways to succeed on the internet” and there were just ten slides. Each contained a short statement such as “Don’t worry, be crappy” (the philosophy of getting it up there even if its not perfect or even finished). It was a twenty minute talk. So each slide was up there for 2 minutes.

Too much text on screen restricts you, ties you to the slide. Guy was liberated from the technology. He walked around, he told stories, and all the time the key message was behind him as reinforcement. I realised my text-heavy slides were weighing me down, were taking away my natural enthusiasm and draining my passion. I went back to the office and deleted all that text off my PowerPoints. Adopting the Kawasaki method, I have Guy to thank for a lot of awards and business I have won in the last decade. Use powerful visuals, videos too. But for text, my rule-of-thumb is now a maximum of 10 words per slide.

2) Tell Me a Story

One man on my course, working for a housing association, put up a slide about how housing changes people’s lives. If you can fit the accommodation to a person’s needs, then you make life better for them. Sounded a reasonable argument, but it was nothing any of us would remember a week later. Instead I got him to tell it as a story:

“When I started in housing we had a tenant who was in a wheelchair, but whose flat was at the top of a flight of stairs. To get out, he had to sit at the top and shout to passers-by to help him get down. As a result, he rarely went out. We found him a ground-floor flat, fully accessible. It changed his life. He was so grateful he used to come into our office every day to thank us. That is why I’m in housing, because it changes people’s lives.”

I will always remember that story and now believe, as he does, of the vital importance of the right housing. Most of us have a tendency to talk theoretically. Stop, now. Look at the key points you are trying to make and find a story to match each one. Because I can guarantee you that it will be the stories that people remember.

3) Involve Me

Last night I went to a seminar on “Zen and the art of social media” by Sinead MacManus. She is a passionate advocate of a focused approach online and there were some great stories and examples. But what enabled me to work out how I could apply it to my business, and put this blog entry on my to-do list, was the involvement. I talking with my colleagues on the course and worked out how it was relevant to me.

Too many presenters miss out the involvement but, in doing so, they reduce the impact. Your audience will remember the stories. But it is through involvement that they will relate it to their own lives. And don’t think you can’t involve big audences. I have been in a presentation with 3,000 people, where learning guru Elliott Maisie fully involved every person in discussion.

Simply asking people to turn to their neighbour and discuss how what you have said relates to them, will increase how much people remember and how much impact it has. Even better if you structure the involvement to make a point. In my speeches on creating Great Workplaces I ask people to come up, in groups, with the 3 most important elements of great management. Then I ask them when they personally worked at their best. Given that great management should be about getting people to work at their best, the answers should be the same. But they rarely are and people get the point that what they are focusing on in management are the wrong things. A point people discover through involvement is far more powerful than one you try to persuade them of.

There are other elements to great presentations. You must speak with passion. You must be clear about the key points you want to get across. But, once you have those key points, make sure you have a story and a point of involvement for each. Sit people down to prepare a presentation and you will find them spending lots of time on the bullet-points, the fonts and the colour of the slides. These will not make a big difference to your audience. Spend your time instead on putting only the core message on your slides, on finding great stories and ways to involve people. Then your presentations will be truly memorable.

Good luck!

If you want to know about the classroom Great Presentations course, click here. Or email me if you want to know when I’m next running it as a webinar.

Postscript: Guy Kawasaki gives describes his approach to PowerPoint here with the 10/20/30 rule (10 slides, 20 minutes, no font less than 30 pt)

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