Building Better Presentations

Know your Audience

The most important thing that I have learned about building effective presentations is beginning by understanding your audience. The book slide:ology by Nancy Duarte has some fantastic suggestions on how to get to the point that you’re planning your presentation based on who you’re presenting to. She outlines a simple seven step process where you go about determining the audience’s feelings, what they want to gain from your presentation and what areas they may be resistant to.

Slides are the backdrop not the presenter

I can’t tell you how many horrible presentations I have seen where people have overloaded the slides with more information than anyone could possibly consume. I’m talking full of sentences for everyone to read; read meaning that they stop paying attention to the presenter, check out completely from what the presenter is saying and focus all of their attention on the slide.  What’s the alternative? Shift the focus to delivering your message via images that emphasize the topic and or create a tone that highlights the meaning you are trying to convey, I like to say that slides are the punctuation of your presentation.  Creative use of the slides and imagery can turn a dull talk into something that resonates.  When I think about slides I think less about words and more but images that illustrate the main point, for example the image that you see with this post is used for discussing clarity.

Tailor Content based upon Purpose

Is your presentation to teach? Then you should understand the different ways people learn and incorporate at least the three primary types into your presentation. For example a visual learner will probably be fine looking at your presentation but handouts that they can read will be far more effective, an auditory learner will spend more time listening to you but they may also need on time to repeat back what they’ve heard, while a kinesthetic learner will actually need to do something so maybe acting out a key principle or giving them time to practice.  If your presentation is purely informative than charts and graphs may be important to incorporate with less images and slides with words. I like a 60/40 split between slides with images and words for a learning presentation and a 30/30/30 split on between charts, images and words for informative.

Make it Fun AND Informative

Last but not least I think any time we are forced to sit in a presentation no matter how well prepared the presenter is or how perfectly the presentation is designed. If the presenter is not engaged in the topic and does not take the time and effort to make sure that the audience is engaged then chances are that the message will be lost. Ensure that you engage your audience by drawing them into what your talk is about and why you are the one they should listen to. Try using a few moments of levity where you can convey an important piece of information in a fun way and you will have created a truly memorable presentation.


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