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.
ago, a software genius named Robert Gaskins had a vision of helping millions of
business people create persuasive presentations easily and inexpensively, and
PowerPoint was born. Despite its misuse over the years, PowerPoint still has
terrific potential to engage audiences because it can combine both verbal and visual
information with real live human interaction. Creating and delivering slides
with your audience’s experience in mind can help you exploit that potential and
move your listeners to action.
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.