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Important Tips for Better PowerPoint or Keynote Presentations

Over and over, I see people make PowerPoint or Keynote presentations that are lifeless, boring, and dull.  They don’t have to be.  Visuals should help you make an impact, and if you want to really connect with your audience, here’s a few suggestions from my experience:

— Text bad.  Pictures good.  If you have more than 10-15 words on a slide, then re-think the slide.  YOU’RE ALREADY SPEAKING.  Why put the text of your talk on the screen?  It’s boring and will instantly put people to sleep.  Use pictures and illustrations to make your point with IMPACT.

— If you can’t deliver an interesting talk WITHOUT slides, then you won’t be interesting WITH slides.  Slides illustrate and enhance.  They won’t make you interesting.  Make sure you know how to speak well or don’t get up.

— Think bullet points.  “The 5 Keys to Business Success.”  “The 10 Principles of Crisis Leadership.” “The 7 Biggest Mistakes in the Media.”  It’s easier for the audience to take notes, keeps the talk moving, and they remember more.

— Don’t read a script or notes.  If you’re going to read your talk, then print it and hand it out.  Don’t waste everyone’s time.  Learn to speak without being tied to your notes.

— Think 20-30 minutes MAX for your presentation.  Film director Alfred Hitchcock was asked how long a movie should be.  His reply?  “…as long as your butt can hold out.”  Same is true of presentations.

—  Learn the technical side of presentation software, your computer, and video gear.  More often than not, the tech guy at your meeting will be an idiot.  If something goes wrong, he won’t be able to help – and often will screw things up more.  So know how to set the screen resolution, adjust the preview screen, mirror or un-mirror displays, and set your connections.  Most important – have all the connectors with you for all kinds of equipment.  (And back up batteries for your remote.)

— Arrive early to get comfortable with the room, and allow time to overcome any technical difficulties.

— Request the type of microphone you’re most comfortable with ahead of time.  I use my hands a lot and hate hand mikes.  I prefer a lav or headset.  If you don’t ask ahead of time, they don’t have what you need.

— Buy this book now:  “Give Your Speech, Change the World.”  Tim Sanders (“Love is the Killer App” and “Today We Are Rich”)  recommended it to me, and it’s one of the most important books in my library.  Brilliant book on how to speak effectively.

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  1. One situation where text in presentations helps is when you are speaking to an audience for whom English is not their first language. Many people read English much better than they understand spoken English and having key points written on the screen can considerably aid understanding. Although I agree that as a general rule, our presentations should focus on images over text

  2. Good stuff – especially about knowing your software and gear. In addition, tell the venue what you’re bringing with you. As an idiot tech guy, I’ve spent too many times under the gun trying to make someone else’s computer and/or software work properly OR editing their presentation because they weren’t sure what they were going to use. I know a lot of systems and a lot of software but there is a lot of equipment out there and this idiot tech guy can’t learn them all.

    1. Brilliant point Greg.  The truth is, most often it isn’t an “idiot tech guy” but a good one who’s been thrown into the situation without any preparation. Plus, everyone’s laptop is set up different ways.  So thanks for making that point.  Good call.  

  3. Another great resource to get you thinking visually. If you can make it to one of Scott McCloud’s lectures on Cartoons and Visual communication, its worth the effort. Just saw him this week in New Jersey. Really makes you think about how people in this generation learn (visually) and how we can better adapt our presentations to connect with them. He’s not “Christian” in fact the presentation does have a few risque moments. But well worth the effort to see it. The talk on “Visual Iconography” is especially thought-provoking. Every pastor should learn to think and present concepts visually. Here’s a link to one of his early presentations, mostly about comics 

    His more recent lectures are more general about visual communication, but this early one still contains some gems of info.

  4. Phil…I especially like your second bullet point. I’ve seen many who seem to rely on flying bullets and “cool” transitions to “make” their presentations. They don’t. Most attendees are interested in YOU and what you have to SAY. I’ve never heard anyone say “I can’t wait to see his/her PowerPoint!” 

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