In addition to the public speaking tips I’ve given in another post, here are some presentation skills tips specifically to help you prepare and deliver an excellent talk illustrated by PowerPoint or a similar program. The principles are the same but when you’re using slides there are a few more issues that need to be addressed.
If you’re going to be presenting and you want to make sure you do a great job of it, a session or two of personalised presentation skills coaching will give you all the metaphorical tools you need (and show you how to use them).
Here are five presentation skills tips to set you on the path to success. Across the Western world every working day, millions of presentations are snoozed through and instantly forgotten. Make yours different!
Presentation Skills Tips
1. Don’t go near PowerPoint until you’ve sketched out your presentation
Start with a piece of paper and work out what you’re going to say. I do not mean write a script but make some notes, make a plan. Then create slides to illustrate your points.
If you start at the other end, by making the slides first, you are consigning your presentation to oblivion. As this article in The New Yorker describes, PowerPoint has a tendency to shape the user’s thoughts and, while it may feel beneficial as you’re preparing, this will become a barrier between you and the audience.
2. Whenever possible, use PowerPoint only as support (if at all!)
In huge numbers of organisations, PowerPoint is so entrenched as the medium of conveying information that the idea of not using it is almost frighteningly radical. Yet, if your talk will be more effective without it, is the audience really going to complain? Where you’ve got straightforward narrative material that doesn’t require visual back-up, be daring and consider just talking to people.
I say “whenever possible” because there are times when the inconvenience caused to all parties by your not conforming is just not worth the advantage. For example, if you’re speaking at a conference, the organisers will almost certainly request a copy of your slides in advance, to give them an idea what you’re going to say. This is a bad system but it is the system and now may not be the moment for you to take a stand against it. In this position, you can only do your best.
Where you have a bit of freedom, however, go back to first principles and think about what your slides are contributing. Are they illuminating or obscuring your point? The reason for using a visual aid is that a picture speaks a thousand words. If it’s text you’re thinking of putting on a slide, why not just say it? (If the answer to that is because you’re using your slides as notes, read on!)
For more detail about putting your content together, see How to Write a Presentation.
3. Don’t use your slides as notes
The slides are meant to be for the audience’s benefit, not yours. And, apart from anything else, if you’re not seeing your prompt until after the slide has been projected, you’ll always be on the back foot. Have your notes on paper or cards (depending on the situation), so you can stay one step ahead.
4. Don’t use your slides as handouts
As mentioned above, I know it can be hard to avoid this but, whenever you feel you can, I urge you to do things differently. In your presentation, you really want to be giving them the headlines, not the minutiae. Overloading your audience with detail will blur your message and make the experience stodgy, both for them and for you.
Supporting facts and figures are much better off in a handout. The effort involved in creating separate slides and handouts will pay off big-time as you deliver a presentation that people listen to.
5. Make your presentation 3-dimensional
Lift your presentation off the screen and interact with your audience. If they could absorb the information better by reading a report, why don’t you just email one round? The reason for human contact is so you can bring it to life for them.