First, this column isn’t just for sales pros. Anyone who finds themselves giving presentations on a regular basis—from workshop instructors to aspiring keynote speakers to those tasked with sharing a message in front of an audience—I’m looking at you.
Because, let’s face it, whenever you stand up and have notes or a slide clicker in hand, you’re making a pitch, but it’s pointless if no one catches it.
Fortunately, there are proven ways to create more effective and compelling presentations. Here are three that you can immediately implement to take the snooze and predictability out of your next pitch.
1. Respect Your Audience's Need for Visual Simplicity
Ohhhhh, look! She’s using the Kyoto layout from Keynote. If anyone can look at your slide deck and recognize its Keynote or Powerpoint theme (or, worse yet, name it), you’ve already lost. Presenters have a visual responsibility to their audience, and it’s the one aspect of presentations I see ignored most often. It's your responsibility—not Keynote’s and not Powerpoint’s—to keep your audience visually involved in your presentation.
I recommend enlisting the assistance of a slide designer. They're not necessarily expensive. If you have a graphic designer you currently work with, ask if they can help you design some slides.
If you’re more of a do-it-yourselfer, here are a few tools you can use to make your slides less stock and more wham-pow:
- Canva. This easy-to-use graphic design tool allows you to build entire slide presentations online and export them as graphics. Then you just insert the completed slides as graphics onto your slide deck. Bingo!
- SketchDeck. Maybe you have a presentation that could use some sprucing up or you’ve built a basic presentation but want to take it to the next level. The folks at SketchDeck will take your existing presentation and turn it into a beautiful, professionally designed presentation. Pricing starts at $20 an hour.
2. Respect Your Audience's Intelligence
Slide readers—I hate them! And I know you do as well. Everyone reading this column went to school and can read what’s on a slide, so for all that is chocolate and holy, stop reading slides to your audience. Your presentations aren’t storytime with a bunch of preschoolers.
Respecting your audience’s intelligence also means minimizing the amount of text you put on your slides. The simpler a slide is to understand, the better chance you have of your audience looking at it, absorbing it and understanding it by the time your presentation moves on to the next slide.
Every slide in your presentation should convey a single idea. And the number of slides in your presentation should probably be half the number you think you need to make your point. Simplicity isn’t less intelligent or sophisticated. It’s actually the most intelligent and sophisticated of all. If you’re having trouble paring down your presentation text and the number of slides you're planning to include, read on, because we’re about to fix that.
3. Respect Your Audience’s Time
Have you ever left a presentation thinking, “Well, that’s an hour of my life I can never get back”? Don’t be the person who stole his audience’s hours. Instead, be the person who made them glad they came and stayed awake. And there’s an easy way to do that: Make sure your presentation tells a story.
I recently wrote a column on the bookending technique—you might want to pop over and read that. But even without reading it, you should know that you, just like everyone else, is a sucker for a good story. Powerful presentation stories all have a few things in common:
- Pain. They address an audience’s pain surrounding a certain topic.
- Remedy. They offer a remedy for that pain, delivering the audience from the pain they feel now to the way they want to live (without that pain).
- Main characters. The main characters in a story are always the audience themselves. While you might use personal examples to tell the story, those examples have to be ones that the audience can relate to and commiserate with, not self-indulgent, look-at-me-I-know-so-much-more-than-you stories.
Here’s a simple, two-step way to turn any presentation into a story with a concise beginning, middle and end to keep your audience’s attention as they wait to learn the fate of your main characters (them):
1. Write down the three key points you want your speech to include. These are:
- The Big Idea. In a single sentence, write down the one thing you want the audience to remember after the last word falls out of your mouth.
- The Big Pain. What keeps your audience up at night?
- The Big Solution. What solutions come together to alleviate your audience’s pain?
2. Start building your speech. Now that you know where you want to end (The Big Idea) and where to begin (The Big Pain), craft the middle of your story (The Big Solution), the journey where you’ll take the audience through the ways you can make their lives better. Remember, not your life—their lives.
Effective and memorable presentations have three responsibilities: They must respect the audience's need for visual simplicity, their intelligence and their time. If you never want to be "that guy," the one whose sessions are half full and whose close rates always seem to lag, start with these three responsibilities the next time you dive in to design your next killer presentation.
You just might find your audience thanks you and is grateful for the journey you’ve taken them on—instead of shunning you and all your hard work.
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