Let's say you're making an important presentation next week. What most people do is fire up the old PowerPoint program and start creating slides. Or, if the topic is similar to what they've presented before, they say, "Oh, good, I don't have to develop this from scratch," and they find previous decks and start finding old slides to mix with new ones.
Most people are taking the wrong approach to presentations.
That's because the success of your presentation depends less on your slides than a lot of other factors. So if you spend all your time making slides (or worse, curating old slides), you are not going to make the impact you seek.
What should you do instead? Here are seven things:
1. Start at the end. Before you make another move, decide upon your desired outcomes. Ask yourself, "What is your desired state? What will participants know, believe and do by the end of my time with them?"
2. Create your big idea. Most listeners will recall no more than 25% of your presentation. That means all those little details will fade away as quickly as you can say, "Short-term memory." So you need to hone in on the one or two important concepts you need people to remember.
Believe it or not, you're still not ready to start creating slides! Before you do:
3. Choreograph the experience. When I'm getting ready for a meeting, this is when I decide whether presenting is even the best way to meet my desired outcomes. I channel Presentation Guru Nancy Duarte, who wrote, "The whole purpose is to enable people to learn. Your mission is not to transmit information but to transform learners." So I design the experience to achieve my objectives and meet the audience's needs. Sometimes that means building in simple techniques like posing a question and asking for a show of hands. Other times, I create sessions in which I never actually present, but build interactive exercises to involve participants.
4. Structure your story. If a presentation is needed, this is when you figure out how to tell your story. Like any good drama (or comedy, for that matter), your presentation needs a story arc. Without it, your presentation is flat. It doesn't move, or move participants. So think about the structure of your presentation as a story, like this: First we faced this challenge. Then we decided to try this. We did it, but encountered this new obstacle. So we did this other thing. And here was the result. Success!
5. Okay, now you can open PowerPoint. And when you do, use a lot of slides. Love it or hate it, PowerPoint is a tool that can be leveraged for good. The best presenters use slides to propel their content forward. They don't read their slides, but do use them as a visual reinforcement of what they're talking about. And good presenters use a lot of slides to give participants something new to look at throughout the session. (After all, slides are free.)
6. Be tangible and specific. Platitudes, truisms, philosophy, theory--all boring. They're too abstract for participants to connect to. Instead, the best presenters combine concepts with specific examples. "Let me show you what I mean," they say. As a result, participants pay close attention.
7. Do what comes naturally. I've noticed that every strong presenter uses his or her unique strengths to make the experience work. For example, at a recent meeting I attended, one presenter stood behind the podium during her talk, but did so with energy. Another walked around at the front of the room. A third positioned herself to the side, which sounds weird, but it worked. The point is to choose the space that works for you, and makes you feel comfortable. Then you'll project confidence.