Here's a question for the business communication set: Who hates slideshows more? The people who have to watch them or those who have to create them? I suspect there's a strong tie. Usually, slideshows are terrible -- even making the old in-school filmstrip shows that those of a certain age will remember.

Generations brought up on movies and television, on entertainment designed and created by the most technically accomplished in the business, will cringe at the typical slideshow. The only movement comes between slides or during animations that usually add next to nothing to what is being shown, which means they are an utter waste to help tuck people in for nap time. Too often someone reads aloud what is already on the slides, causing bodies to shift weight backward in their seats while eyes roll upwards toward either heaven or a nearby clock that will eventually give them release from the ordeal.

You can't guarantee that your presentation about last quarter's pizza expenses will hold your mother spellbound, let alone the target audience. But you can do a lot to at least lighten the burden and make the time pass in a bit more interesting a way.

Create a story

You're bringing people along on a journey. Don't think of your presentation as a series of data graphs and points that you want to make. Tell a story with a beginning, middle, and end that leads the audience where you want to bring them.

Add slides

At first blush, that has to sound like a foolish choice. If people are bored with what you have, what's going to happen when you present even more? But the problem is that you probably crowd too much information in a single slide, all in the hopes of keeping things from taking too long. Ironically, you'll still spend the same amount of time talking about each bullet point or statistic, only you lose the audience as they try to pick through the image on the screen. Instead, break each point out in a separate slide and stop the clutter. Your audience can now focus.

Find new graph tools

Making graphs? You're probably using Excel to create them. But there are many free tools available that can break the look of the usual suspects. Computerworld has a list of at least 30 tools available to punch up your results. Here's an example: first a 2D pie chart from Excel:

Now there's a similar one from a product called DataHero:

Spice up graph backgrounds

How many line and bar graphs has your audience seen over the years? The problem with familiarity of form is that many people will lose interest in what makes one graph different from another. They all start to look the same. Instead, try different forms with backgrounds that still get the information across but break the hypnosis of the usual. Here's an example from SlideShare, a LinkedIn company that lets people share slide decks:

It's easy enough to add some background zip to your work. I took that chart from DataHero, exported it with a transparent background, and downloaded a stock image from RBGStock, although there are number services that can give you free or inexpensive access to a wide range of images. In this case, I pulled everything into Photoshop, made the background image partially transparent, and dropped the chart on top.

Add video

I remember giving a presentation to a group of journalism graduate schools. To break things up, I found a couple of videos that were applicable to the topic at hand and embedded them in various points in the presentation. The sudden change wakes people up and gives them something to remember.

Get professional design help

There are times when a presentation is critical. When that happens, don't trust yourself to do the work. Find someone who actually knows design and the presentation of information and who can help visually communicate your ideas. That will let you break the boundaries of using existing templates and graph types and present something truly different.

Work hard on the last slide

Presentation design consultancy Ethos3 notes that the last slide in your deck is critical. Too many presentations fizzle out with a dull "thank you" ending. Instead, focus on a call to action, because, after all, you're offering the presentation to persuade people to some point of view, whether to accept your ideas, buy your products, or donate time or money to a charitable cause. Be sure to close the deal.

Published on: Jun 5, 2015
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