PowerPoint decks can be an very efficient way of sharing and presenting information.
Yet, if they're bad, they are painful to create and even more painful to sit through.
Today, I'm going to teach you two easy hacks to vastly improve your presentations that are so easy, you're going to kick yourself for not doing them sooner.
1. Ask the audience to read or listen, not both.
The human brain physically cannot read and listen at the same time. In fact, the brain is terrible at multitasking. We have to choose one activity to focus on. For those who think we are multitasking, what we are actually doing is rapidly switching from one thing to the next.
Think back to the last presentation you saw. Did the presenter put up a slide full of words and ramble on and on? Were you scrambling to keep up, trying to listen to what they were saying, and read what's on the screen at the same time? It's awful.
So give your audience a break. Ask them to read or listen. Don't force them to try and do both at once.
You can achieve this with four types of slides:
Single image slide: Find an image that aligns with what you aim to tell; this gives you the most freedom. There are no words on the slide and you can chat for a few minutes and tell your story. I gave a talk on budgeting vs. estimating and used the slide above as a jumping off point for how everyone hates to sit around, waiting for the phone to ring to find out if your project is over budget. People laughed and I had their undivided attention.
Single sentence slide: I use this technique often. The key to delivering this correctly is the very first thing you do when you get to this slide is to speak, verbatim, the sentence on the slide. And presto, now you and the audience are aligned. You've both done your reading and now can switch to listening. You can then continue to discuss this and go into detail for a bit before moving on.
Header and bullet point slide: It's tempting to make many slides in this format. You have a header and some bullet points This is a perfectly fine slide style, so long as you do two things: Make the font large enough for folks in the back of the room to read. Physically test this by putting your laptop in presentation mode, project onto a wall or screen, stand about as far away as you think the audience will be, and make sure you can read your own slides.
Literally read, verbatim, every word on your slide. The technique for reading the words on a slide with a header and bullet points differs from the technique on reading slide style number two above. When you have a header and bullet points, you still have to maintain the number one hack: the audience can only read or listen, they can't do both. Achieve this by using Animations. Have one bullet point appear on the screen at a time.
The key is to prevent the audience from having to read ahead so you are all focused on reading a little bit, and then pausing to have the audience listen to what you are saying. Remember to maintain this hack and to remember that whatever words go up on that slide should come out of your mouth. When I show the words "Meeting rhythms" on a slide, I might say, "The first thing to change is meeting rhythms. Do this by....."
Data slide: This one is the most complex. Often, in a presentation, you aim to share data and that sometimes means putting a whole bunch of data on the screen at once.
The most productive way to deal with a data slide is:
- Give the audience 15 seconds to absorb the data. Literally say, "Take a few seconds to look this over."
- Have a laser pointer and point to the areas of the chart you want the audience to focus on.
- Make sure all data on the slide is visible to folks at the back of the room. If you find yourself saying, "You're not meant to be able to read all of this" then you have to delete or cover up the data that's not relevant.
2. Visualize how far along in the presentation you are.
There's nothing worse than being 20 minutes into a presentation and wondering "is there five minutes left or thirty? How much longer is this going to last?"
A college professor of mine taught me:
- Tell 'em what you're gonna tell 'em
- Tell 'em
- Tell 'em what you've told 'em
It's stuck with me ever since.
The easiest way to do this is to have an agenda slide, subsection slides, and a summary slide.
These two hacks are simple and will take your presentation skills to the next level. I hope they are as useful to you as they've been to me.