10 tips to enhance presentations

by Cliff Atkinson, Sociable Media

In Beyond Bullet Points I: Telling a story with your presentation and Beyond Bullet Points II: Using storyboards to plan your presentation, you learned to create a flexible and robust system for bringing your ideas to life by using Microsoft Office PowerPoint. Build on this foundation by using these tips to further enhance your presentation.

Tip 1: The living brand

In the conventional bullet points approach to PowerPoint presentations, it's common for presenters to place a logo of an organization on every PowerPoint slide. But the Beyond Bullet Points approach uses a different set of techniques to ensure that an organization's identity is carried throughout presentations.

Research indicates that extraneous information on a screen can distract from the audience's ability to understand the point at hand. It would be annoying if you went to see a film and an entertainment company's logo was prominently displayed in the corner of the screen. Likewise, a logo on every PowerPoint slide stands in the way of the audience becoming completely absorbed in a story.

In a live presentation, all eyes are on you, and you are actually a living example of your company's brand. The high quality of your ideas, the compelling story, the interesting visuals, and the level of engagement that you achieve all contribute to a branding experience that the audience will not soon forget.

And just in case they do, insert your logo on each of your notes pages. Provide printouts of your PowerPoint presentation for your audience to review later. Your notes pages will be included in each printout, and each page of your notes pages will prominently display your logo.

Tip 2: Toastmasters

If you're not a member of a speaking club, such as Toastmasters International (www.toastmasters.org), you should be. When you join a speaking club, you'll participate in speaking exercises during meetings and receive valuable feedback.

The biggest benefits will likely come from simply attending regular meetings. As you're exposed to more speaking opportunities in a supportive environment, you'll develop skills to manage your nervousness. Your confidence will increase not just in public speaking, but in all aspects of communications.

Tip 3: Stretch yourself

A live presentation draws on the full spectrum of communication skills, but almost no one is good at everything. You're probably better at one part of the presentation process — for example, writing your story, editing your headlines, boiling down your ideas, checking your reasoning, creating visuals, or actually speaking and presenting.

When you know your strength, pick a different area to improve. For example, if you're good at writing, learn graphics. Or if you're good at graphics, work on your public speaking. Only by stretching can you keep on growing.

Tip 4: Prepare your introduction

One of the most overlooked parts of the presentation experience is the set of words that introduces you before you stand up to speak. A good introduction raises an audience's interest in the presentation and establishes your authority to give the talk in the first place.

To make sure that your story gets off to a solid start, plan the way you'll be introduced. Write a brief description of yourself and your presentation that the introducer can use as an outline.

As you write this description, think of a brief way to set up the story that you're about to tell. Also be sure to describe your credentials as they relate to the topic of the presentation. The audience needs to know that your experience makes you the right person to be giving this presentation.

Tip 5: Got gobo?

Many standard meeting rooms feature fluorescent lights and ordinary tables. But with inexpensive lighting tools, you can change the atmosphere of the room to remove the distractions of a shabby presentation environment.

One simple way to light up the presentation environment is with a gobo, which is a partial screen with the cutout of a pattern that's placed over a light. When you turn on the light, it projects the image of the pattern onto a surface. You can use a gobo to project a subtle pattern to cover up an uneven wall or to add a soft color to make glaring lights less obvious.

As with all of the visuals you've prepared for the presentation, any visual effects should be transparent and never distract from your message. People should remember the message and not the lighting.

Tip 6: Visual mnemonics

Having problems trying to remember what you want to say? Try using graphic elements to trigger your memory about key points. For example, if you plan to make six key points in the presentation, use a photo that can be associated with each point, such as a ship's steering wheel. Each handle of the wheel can act as a reminder of each of your points.

A visual mnemonic

When you use an image on a slide as a visual mnemonic, you can make your ideas, as well as the presentation, memorable.

Tip 7: Make the conversation high voltage

In his book, Moving Mountains, Henry M. Boettinger wrote, "Presentation of ideas is conversation carried on at high voltage — at once more dangerous and more powerful." This is one of the best definitions of presentations. It packs so much meaning into a brief sentence, which becomes even more meaningful when it's broken up into pieces:

  • You're presenting ideas, not your ego.
  • A presentation is a conversation. There are at least two people involved.
  • A presentation is high voltage. It's not boring.
  • A presentation is dangerous. It's risky.
  • A presentation is powerful. It has strength.

The next time you speak, keep Boettinger's wise words in mind to stay focused on the meaning you pack into your presentations.

Tip 8: Magnify intimacy

One of the most powerful techniques in film is magnifying the face of an actor to give the audience a feeling of intimacy with that person. Although this technique is not yet common in most presentations, new technologies continue to transform the presentation landscape.

For example, an image magnification camera can zoom in on a presenter's face while he or she is speaking at a live event. The image can be featured in a split-screen format next to the speaker's PowerPoint slides on a wide screen.

If you have the chance to have your face magnified on a screen, embrace the opportunity — you're giving the audience a chance to see you up close. But before you do, you should sign up for media training that uses a live camera similar to the one in the presentation. That will help you see how you look on the big screen.

Tip 9: Script multiple speakers

The Beyond Bullet Points method can help when you have multiple people speaking during your presentation. Use the Beyond Bullet Points story template to plan what each speaker will say. To do this, complete the story template. When it's time to deliver the presentations, Speaker 1 presents the Act I scenes to introduce the story. Speaker 2 presents the series of slides in Act II, Scene 1; Speaker 3 presents the series of slides in Act II, Scene 2; and Speaker 4 presents the series of slides in Act II, Scenes 3 and 4. Then Speaker 1 returns to tie everything together in the Act III scenes.

This technique ensures that audience members experience a single story that makes sense to them. You should also send the storyboards for each section to the speakers to design in advance. In that way, all of the speakers will stay on the message while projecting their own unique styles and personalities.

Tip 10: Use the Beyond Bullets blog

Each entry in the Beyond Bullets blog (www.beyondbullets.com) features an advanced idea that you can apply to your PowerPoint presentations by using the Beyond Bullet Points approach. If you'd like to stay connected, subscribe to this free service to keep the fresh ideas coming. And make sure to send your own ideas and innovations to share with other readers and presenters.

More information

For more tips about delivering PowerPoint presentations, read these related articles by Cliff Atkinson:

About the author     Cliff Atkinson, president of Sociable Media, is a leading authority on how to improve communications across organizations. This article is adapted from Beyond Bullet Points: Using Microsoft PowerPoint to Create Presentations That Inform, Motivate, and Inspire, which is available from Microsoft Learning.

Applies to:
PowerPoint 2003