Guest post by Laura Brown:
According to one estimate, 30 million PowerPoint presentations occur every day throughout the world, and most of us are pretty jaded by now. PowerPoint was originally conceived as a persuasive tool; in a 1986 marketing report for its predecessor, an early program called Presenter, developer Robert Gaskins writes enthusiastically about the "very large number of businesspeople" who regularly make presentations to "persuade others to make a decision, to approve a course of action, or to accept a result."i In the wrong hands, however, PowerPoint can become a real demotivator, as anyone who's ever experienced "PowerPoint hell" or "death by PowerPoint" can attest. All is not lost, though. These tips can help you create a truly engaging PowerPoint and harness the persuasive power of the world's most popular presenting tool.
- Think from your audience's point of view, and build your presentation from there. You may be really excited to tell your listeners all about your new idea or product, but you'll serve your audience better if narrow your material based on their needs. Put yourself in your listeners' shoes as you consider length, scope, and level of detail. How can you solve their problems? What questions are they likely to have? Be willing to trim content if necessary. Focusing on the needs and expectations of the audience can transform the way you plan and build your presentations, and it can mean the difference between a presentation that's engaging and persuasive and one that makes your audience want to jump out the window.
- Be very clear about what you want your audience to do. Presentations are often used in the sales process, but ask yourself this . . . do people make the sale with the presentation alone? Typically not. If the presentation doesn't clinch the sale or the decision, what exactly is it doing then? How does it move the decision process along, and what is the next step you'd like the audience to take? Is there a demo to try, customization options to explore? A persuasive presentation contains a call to action, even if it's just to invite the audience to learn more about the product or idea. The clearer you are about the role of the presentation in your overall process, the more successful you'll be at creating a presentation that persuades your audience and inspires them to act.
- Create memorable slides. Your slides have two purposes: to act as prompts for your presentation (see the bullet below), and to reinforce the points you want your audience to remember. Choose four or five main points from your talk that you want your audience to retain -- studies show they are unlikely to retain more than that, so be judicious. Then create graphically clean slides that effectively frame and reinforce your chosen points. The eyes of your audience should be able to light on your slides and register the meaning instantly without any conscious effort at processing the information -- and without diverting their attention from you. Don't clutter your slides with lots of content. You want your audience to remember having seen your concepts as well as heard them: experiencing the content visually aids in retention. Slides that are heavy with text and images are harder to take in than streamlined slides that feature lots of white space. If you have detailed information that you want your audience to have, you can create a leave-behind version of your deck with more complete content.
- Engage with your audience, not with your slides. When it comes time to give the presentation, your attention should be focused on your audience, not on the screen behind you. Never, ever stand there and read your slides. Your audience can read faster than you can speak; they will read ahead of you and lose interest waiting for you to catch up. Use the content on your slide as prompts for your talk, to keep yourself organized and on track. A presentation is a kind of performance: to succeed, you must rehearse and become thoroughly familiar with your material rather than leaning heavily on your slides for information. If you take the time to get truly comfortable with your content, you'll exude confidence and form a real bond with your audience, rather than limping along constantly looking back over your shoulder. It's the dynamic human connection, even more than the quality of your information that creates real persuasive engagement during a presentation.
Laura Brown, PhD, author of How to Write Anything: A Complete Guide, has taught writing to just about everyone -- from corporate executives to high school students. She has more than twenty-five years' experience providing training and coaching in business writing, and she has also taught composition and literature at Columbia University. Her expertise encompasses instructor-led training, individual coaching, classroom teaching, and e-learning development. She has worked with clients such as Morgan Stanley, AOL Time Warner, Citigroup, DHL and MetLife.