Let’s start off with a phrase commonly used to refer to presentations, “Death by PowerPoint.”
You know what I’m talking about. Everyone has sat through at least one of these terrible, horrible, no good, very bad demonstrations.
The great thing about PowerPoint is that it is an incredibly effective tool for sharing a lot of information. Charts, graphs, videos, sound clips, statistics – this application easily handles all different types of media in addition to standard text. The not-so-great thing about PowerPoint is that it often becomes a crutch for the presenter, which then translates to suck-in-that-drool-before-anyone-sees-it boredom for the audience.
Lucky for you, there are some ways that you can spice up your PowerPoint game with relatively little effort. I say “relatively little effort” and not “no effort” on purpose because going from a one-star presentation to a four or five star is going to require a bit of work.
One of the best ways that you can create an engaging PowerPoint presentation is to think of the whole thing as if you were telling a story. Before you even choose your template, color scheme, or font, write out an outline of your presentation on a piece of *gasp* actual paper. Develop a hook to capture your audience’s attention and plan out a clear beginning, middle, and end for your information. If you’re the kind of person who needs to write out everything you’re going to say, go for it! The better prepared you are, the better you can practice, and the better you can perform when the time comes.
Which brings me to my next point… you have to practice! Even if you’re the best public speaker in the world, you should take a little bit of time to work through any bugs in your presentation. Practice speaking with enthusiasm and at least a little bit of bravado. If your presentation is long and covers a lot of material, this is an especially crucial step before you get up in front of a crowd.
People tend to read whatever is up on the screen, so if you want them to pay attention to you, keep the on-screen words to a minimum or wait to put up an abbreviated bullet point until the moment you are ready to talk about it.
And never – NEVER – write up full paragraphs of material and then read it word-for-word off of the screen. Even having to write that made me die a little on the inside.
Consider the audience
Depending on the type of material that you are presenting, you can go about this a few different ways. One thing that all presenters should do is maintain eye contact with their audience members. You should have practiced enough before the big day that even if you don’t have every single word written out on a notecard in front of you, you know what you should be talking about on each slide.
Keep your audience intrigued by asking good questions – either rhetorical or for actual audience participation – and create meaningful pauses so that the audience can chew on your information. Set a good pace – not too slow and not too fast – and if you notice that the audience is getting restless, modify your approach. One good way to keep interest through a long presentation is to include quality graphics, appropriate quotations, and interesting statistics relating to the subject matter.
Things to Avoid
Most likely, those terrible, horrible, no good, very bad demonstrations we spoke of earlier had one or more of these flaws.
Too many images
Whether they are stock photos or high-quality graphics, an overabundance of images can be boring and distracting. Only include images or videos that enhance your message. In other words, be selective.
Light fonts on dark backgrounds
This may make your information seem mysterious, but it’s also harder to read. As much as possible, you should use light backgrounds with dark fonts. If you are bound to a standard company template that is the opposite, just increase your font size by a few points.
Selecting fonts is arguably the most fun part of designing a PowerPoint, but you should stick with basic sans-serif fonts (fonts with out swirlies) if you want your audience to stay engaged. Fancy fonts are best left to invitations and Christmas cards, not PowerPoint presentations.
Blocks of text
I mentioned this earlier, but it’s worth repeating. Don’t include large paragraphs in your PowerPoint – they’re distracting and hard to read. Your audience will no doubt read faster in their heads than you can read aloud, which creates a disjointed experience.
Transition effects/sound effects
Transitions and effects may be fun to create, but they can be distracting to your viewers. Keep to a standard transition, and leave out the sound effects altogether.
Alternatives to PowerPoint
If you’re tired of using PowerPoint but still need a presentation platform, there are some really fun alternatives online. Prezi, Glisser, Canva, and Visme are all engaging and exciting options, though they do take a little bit of time to beat the learning curve.
Whatever presentation platform you choose, the above suggestions can help you take your presentation game to the next level so that your audience stays alert, attentive, and drool-free.