Category Archives: Presentations

Make Your Definitions More Interesting…

One of the more fundamental yet boring slides in a PowerPoint is the definitions slide. This may actually, in a really painful case, represent multiple slides. Here are some pointers for making the definition process fun and engaging for the audience.

Typically, you will see a slide that says “Definitions” in bold and underlined across the top. Then, listed underneath in microscopic font will be key terms and their respective meanings. Instead of using this method — which, by the way, is certain to bore your audience into a coma before you really even get started — try the following:

Let’s use the term “mammal” as an example. Across the top of the slide, state “What are mammals?” Open it up to the audience and find out what they believe the definition of a mammal is. This engages the audience, will certainly get some laughs, allows you to clear up any misconceptions, and gives you an idea of what you are dealing with in terms of your audience.

While getting audience input, add your own commentary. Correct what they are saying and add detail. Praise those who are accurate and reiterate what they have said to drill it home.

Next, on that same slide, use graphics to show examples of mammals. Introduce them one by one, focusing on the characteristics that make them mammals. Show pictures of humans, monkeys, lions, tigers, and bears (oh my!). This makes the concept real and relatable for the audience. And, again, keep things interesting and interactive.

Finally, end with the definition you want the audience to remember. It may be a simplified version of a standard definition, but it should be accurate and usable by the audience. This strategy will allow you to put your best foot forward with intriguing definitions that are memorable and meaningful to the audience.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Finish Strong Every Time…

In any given week, I see dozens of presentations come across my desk. If you look at a random sample of 100 of these PowerPoints, I would estimate that 98 of them end with either “Thank you” or “Questions” as the last slide. Who made this the official last slide of PowerPoint? I often wonder that, because it really is not the best way to finish up.

After preparing for weeks, presenting for an hour, and doing an awesome job, what exactly are you thanking the audience for? For listening to you? I hope not. Also, the hope is that you allowed questions throughout if something wasn’t clear. So, finishing up with a big question mark in the center of a slide and stating “Questions?” is redundant and leaves the audience with nothing new.

Now to the good stuff. The best way to end your PowerPoint is with a summary slide of the key take-away points and/or action items for next steps. Assume your audience understood and followed your logical arguments up to that point. Assume they are ready to take the next steps and proceed. Lay the groundwork. Set forth those next steps and be prepared to discuss them one on one. Name your last slide “Discussion of Next Steps.” This moves the discussion forward and truly makes the most of the time the audience invested with you.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Know Your Audience…

Imagine spending over 100 hours creating an incredible presentation. The images are creative and beautiful, the words powerful and inspirational, and the animations humorous and intriguing. You fly into town, put on your finest suit, shine your shoes, fix your hair, and get ready to present. Your first opening slide comes up and you are psyched to give your high-level sales-training speech. Little do you know, the audience is full of accountants who have never sold anything a day in their lives.

One of the greatest failures of presenter is not taking the time to know the audience and plan accordingly. Do the research beforehand – ask the key questions and play detective. Where are you presenting, know what is the topic for the day (if you are one of a panel of presenters), how many people are signed up, what’s the demographic, how much they are paying, who are the other speakers, and what are their topics, etc. This is so essential and often overlooked.

Completing your due diligence will allow you to create a better presentation overall. It will be more relevant to the audience, hold their attention, and ultimately, it will bring in more business (or buy-in) for you. By knowing your audience beforehand, you can use images that are appropriate (maybe a certain ethnic group or gender), you can adjust the wording of your slides (maybe more or less technical), you can gauge the use of humor, the overall time, the amount of time for questions, the way you dress, handouts, and so on.

Knowing your audience can truly make or break your presentation, no matter how great the design and the speech may be. Do the work when you sign up for the job… it will be well worth your time.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

The Rule of Three…

When giving presentations or public talks, the Rule of Three is a powerful rule to remember. You should commit this to memory and practice writing and presenting using this rule. The rule is simple: When making a point, use three words or ideas in a row. The audience is more likely to consume and comprehend an idea when it is presented as part of a trio.

Using the Rule of Three allows you to present a concept more clearly, concisely, and memorably. In his book Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer, Roy Peter Clark provides insights into the magic of the number three. He states, “Use one for power. Use two for comparison, contrast. Use three for completeness, wholeness, roundness. Use four or more to list, inventory, compile, and expand.”

The rule of three has created timeless speeches, stories, and historical foundations. Some examples include:

  • From the Declaration of Independence – “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”
  • From religion – “Father, son, and holy spirit”
  • From movies – “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”
  • From children’s stories – “The Three Little Pigs” or “Goldilocks and the Three Bears”
  • From real estate – “Location, location, location”
  • From Julius Caesar – “Veni, vidi, vici” (“I came, I saw, I conquered”)
  • From entertainment – “Three-ring circus” or “The Three Stooges”

As you can see, the Rule of Three has a powerful history. It’s nothing new and has been used throughout time to make powerful points, in the formation of governments (Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches), and to engrain concepts into the memory of generations.

So, remember in your next speech to use the Rule of Three… and that’s  the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Great Images… Right?

You want your PowerPoint to be impactful… to leave your audience with something ingrained in their memory. The experts in the field have all been saying to use more imagery and have fewer slides with bullets and text – that this formula will have the greatest effect on your audience.

Sounds simple enough, but how do you go about choosing an image? A great image can be a very subjective thing. So how do you really know if the chosen image is great, just OK, or totally pathetic?

First of all, a great image needs a couple of basic characteristics. Without this foundation, no matter how creative, funny, or moving the image may be, it will be average at best and will not provide the “wow factor” you’re looking for. The image needs to be high resolution, not pixilated. It should not be stretched, but should be of adequate size so it is clearly visible and fills up the area you want. The image should be professional looking – if it is a photograph, make sure the lighting, color, and composition look professional (use the wedding picture test – would you be happy if this was your wedding photograph?).

Many of the stock photo sites will have images that meet these criteria; however, just because an image is from a stock photo sites doesn’t mean it automatically meets these criteria, so be careful in your image selection.

Once you have this basic foundation for your image, the other factors are what I call the “3 R’s” of images: relevance, resonance, and rarity (uniqueness).

  • Relevance: A great image needs to match your message. This may “click” with your audience and serve as a powerful takeaway. Of course, this may require the proper setup and delivery by the speaker to ensure your point gets across as intended. This proper positioning of your chosen image will connect the dots for the audience and leave a powerful impression.
  • Resonance: While we certainly applaud and foster creativity, sometimes you need to reel it in and keep yourself focused. All too often someone will approach me with an idea for a slide he thinks is brilliant. We will show it around and with blank stares, we all say we just don’t get it. Make sure your image resonates with your audience, otherwise your really cool image will be nothing more than a really cool image. It will not have meaning and context and will just sit there on the screen, looking all pretty, with a lot of confused faces staring at it.
  • Rarity: While your image may be relevant to your message and truly resonate and connect with your audience, a truly great image will be rare or unique. This is basically the opposite of the handshake image we have seen a million times over. Find something different or apply a different use to something familiar. Mix it up for maximum impact, but don’t go too far out there, so that it’s not relevant and doesn’t resonate.

These tips should help with the beginnings of choosing great images to get maximum impact from your PowerPoint presentations and will have your audience talking about your message for days.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Say Goodbye to Spreadsheets…

It may not be your first choice and you know the audience is going to hate you for it, but sometimes you have to present numbers, figures, calculations, results, financials, statements, and more. While it certainly makes it more enjoyable and digestible for the audience if the numbers are positive and show growth, profits, or bonuses, the reality remains that most people don’t like looking at numbers in a presentation and tend to tune out. A surefire way to lose the audience is to pop an Excel spreadsheet up on the screen and begin talking.

A spreadsheet is dull, difficult to follow, and not meaningful to an audience. Next time you have the task of presenting numbers, try using something visual. Try a pie chart to show proportions, such as sales by company division as a part of the whole company. Use a line chart to show a trend, such as profit growth over the last four quarters. Or, put together a bar chart to compare expenses over the last 12 months. These graphics are simple to build and create something digestible and understandable for your audience.

Take this one step further, though. The default in PowerPoint is for the visual to show up on the screen in one piece. However, you can animate your charts and graphs and build them along with the audience. This gives you time to discuss each piece as you go along. You can explain why something may have happened or congratulate a group on a great quarter as your line chart shoots to the sky. If you do this, keep the effects simple – we don’t need spinning and twirling. Keep in mind you don’t want to detract or make a serious presentation cartoonish.

So, next time you are faced with the daunting task of presenting financials, spruce it up a bit and you will see it is much more enjoyable for the audience, and they will both understand and retain what you have presented much better.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Follow-Up? What Follow-Up?

You just gave the presentation of a lifetime. You had a room full of top decision-makers from your all-time top prospects. You had their ear and they were eating up every word of what you had to say. These execs were engaged, their wheels were spinning, and they wanted you, your product, or your service. So, the presentation ends and what do you do?

I can’t even count how many times people come to me and we discuss presentation strategy and develop a great game plan and a fantastic presentation. And, a month later, they call me and are wondering why the presentation didn’t turn into new business. My first question is always, “What did you do after the presentation ended?” Did you have a follow-up plan of action in place or did you just let it go, thinking that the audience was going to call you?

Just as important as the presentation, if not even more so, is your follow-up. You must have a plan in place before you set foot into that room and start speaking. Without a good follow-up plan, you are basically leaving it all on the table, because I can pretty much guarantee that no one is going to be calling you without some further provoking.

There are many strategies to employ. Try collecting email addresses and sending a follow-up email. Or, ask if audience members want to receive your newsletter or blog posts. You can always try a good old-fashioned phone call. What about an invitation to your next presentation or even a webinar? The strategies are endless, but the key point remains – have a strategy and make it very specific. In addition to your actions, put a timetable together so you know that, for example, seven days after the presentation, attendees get a phone call. Seven days after that is a follow-up email. Ten days later is a snail-mail letter and an invitation to your next speech. Don’t let too much time pass as you want to hit them hard in the weeks immediately following your presentation.

What are some of your strategies for follow up? Share below… I would love to hear how others do it.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Stop Boring Your Audience with Bullet Points…

We’ve all seen presentations loaded with slides that have too many bullet points.

The presenter has likely assumed that instead of sentences, bullet points can be shorter and bring forward the real information. But too often we see slides with more than 10 bullet points, each composed of more than 10 words. The presenter has inadvertently jammed too much information onto the screen in an ironic effort to cut back on the text.

In his book, The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to Be Insanely Great in Front of Any Audience, Carmine Gallo points out that the late Jobs, often considered to be a master of message, delivered presentations that were “strikingly simple, visual, and devoid of bullet points. That’s right – no bullet points. Ever.”

That’s because Jobs was focused on one thing: making sure his message got across to his audience.

Your audience is bombarded by information all day, every day. It’s sensory overload. Give them a break and think about your message. Can you identify your main point with just one, two, or three words? How about an icon or image instead?

The less text you toss up on the screen, the less the audience has to read… and the more they’ll be listening to you and what you have to say.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Consistency, Consistency, Consistency…

If the mantra in real estate is location, location, location, the PowerPoint mantra must be consistency, consistency, consistency. An extremely common flaw, easily fixable, is the creator of the PowerPoint using a mishmash of colors, fonts images, backgrounds, etc. Besides the lack of visual appeal, it looks unprofessional and as if it was created by multiple people who don’t communicate.

Let’s get one thing straight – consistency does not mean lack of creativity. The two are not mutually exclusive. You can be both creative and consistent. The consistency we are talking about here is the unintentional inconsistency, not the intentional creative flair. These unintentional inconsistencies create noise, draw the audience to focus on the wrong things, and just look unprofessional. Focus on the following areas when reviewing your work and you should be good to go, incorporating creativity and keeping things consistent.

  • Fonts – Yes, there are hundreds of fonts available in MS Office. But, guess what – you don’t have to use all of them. Stick to two or three at most and use them consistently throughout, not just on a whim. Too many fonts look sloppy and serve only as a distraction. Also, keep your fonts simple and legible. No need for wingdings – I guarantee your point will get lost!
  • Imagery – Choose images that are similar in style and design. (of course, make sure they are professional-looking in the first place). This will improve the professional look of the overall PowerPoint. For instance, if you are using an animation of a business executive on slide three, find a similar-looking animation for slide four – don’t insert a photograph as a stock image.
  • Colors – There are seven colors in the rainbow. Mix them together and the combinations are endless. I know it’s tempting, Picasso, but restrain yourself to a consistent color scheme throughout. Again, it keeps up the professionalism of the overall work and does not distract from the points you are trying to get across.
  • Format – This refers to everything from headers and footers to bullets and background templates. Very often in a corporate setting, John has a PowerPoint to create and he takes pieces from Bob, others from Sue, a bit from the corporate overview presentation, etc. We all have our individual styles, so put this together and wow, what a mess. Spend the time formatting fonts, images, bullets, colors, text size, etc., until it’s all consistent.

These key areas should serve as a checklist to help improve the professional look of your presentations moving forward. Just remember the mantra – consistency, consistency, consistency, and you will remove distraction, allowing your audience to focus on your key message.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

The Magic Number Is…

Very often our presentations culminate with “the “X” steps to success,” or “top ‘X’ takeaways,” or “top ‘X’ goals for today.” The question begs, what is “X”? Should X be three, five, seven, 10… ? The more takeaway bullets we can give, the better, right? Wrong.

Less is more when it comes to your bulleted steps or takeaways from a presentation. Scientific studies of the brain and memory have shown time and again that people can keep three key points or steps in their short-term memory. After three, the brain kicks one out so there’s room for the next. You may have seven on the slide, but your audience has deleted four from their short-term memory and most likely retained only three.

If you really think about it, three is a great number. Things always happen in threes… three represents a beginning, a middle, and an end, or a past, a present, and a future. I feel a bit like The Count on Sesame Street, but three is a magical number with a great ring to it. Plus it ties things up nice and neat, keeps things simple, and forces you, as the presenter, to focus on what is really important for your audience.

If you have more to say, think about directing the audience to the information elsewhere… provide a web address, print material, or a blog site. Think about why your audience is there listening to you and what they want to leave with. Put yourself in the audience’s shoes.

Think about how you can condense your material into points that are manageable and easy to remember. Maybe it’s a key word for each. Count them out on your hand using three fingers. And remember – three is the magic number. Less is more when it comes to presenting.

Tagged , , , , , ,