Whether you’re in the business of giving presentations, or you only do so on occasion, the following is information that will definitely benefit your ability to create stunning slides. I sit through enough presentations to know what works, and what doesn’t. What do I use as a gauge? My attention. If a presentation can hold my attention for the duration, then I know the presenter has done a great job.
The one thing that most people overlook when presenting is that you are always selling something. You may not be selling a physical, salable product or service, but at the very least, you are selling your ideals and your principals to those in attendance. Having said that, it's important to do your best when preparing to give your presentation. Below are 6 techniques that I use when creating my presentation slide decks.
#1: Never use a font smaller than 30 points
While that’s a good approximation (and a safe rule of thumb), the actual formula that I use is this: never use a font size smaller than half the age of the oldest person in the room. For example, if you have a 70-year-old executive in attendance, the smallest font you would use is 35 points. This is hopefully obvious, but in case it isn’t... the older you are, the worse your eyes are. You don’t want to make it too difficult for your audience to read the slides.
#2: Less is more (especially with text)
Your audience will either read your slide or listen to you. They can’t do both. If your slides are too wordy, your audience will ignore everything you say and read the slide instead (often times skimming the text). Before you have a chance to even try to make your point, they’re done and ready to move on. Instead of using text to make your points, try using images to enhance your message. Also, avoid bullet points like the plague. They can be just as deadly to your pitch.
#3: Charts should be easy to understand at a glance
My rule of thumb when it comes to charts... if the audience can’t understand a chart within 5 seconds of looking at it (without an explanation), then it’s poorly designed and it’s time to start over. Charts should be clear, concise and easy to interpret (correctly) by ALL in attendance. You will also want to use as few series as possible to get your point across. Use too many, and it becomes overly complicated. Use too few, and they may interpret the chart incorrectly. There’s a fine line... you need to find it.
#4: Avoid the laser pointer
Most people agree that using a laser pointer puts you into a special category of people. Suffice it to say, you want to avoid that category if you can help it. It denotes laziness and a sense of distraction from your message. You also don’t want to spend much time turning to look (and point) at your slides. This not only shows the audience that you’re willing to turn your back to them, but it also conveys a message of unpreparedness to your presentation.
#5: Practice, practice, practice
Think of the last presentation you gave. How long was it? How much time did you spend preparing the slides? Lastly, how much time did you spend practicing the presentation? For the average 30 minute “high stakes” presentation, you should spend roughly 36 - 90 hours preparing. 20 - 60 of those hours consists of actually building the slides, the rest is in gathering data, building a storyboard, and most importantly, practicing. If you don’t practice enough, you’ll end up turning your back to the audience and using a laser pointer. Don’t be that guy.
#6: Find an inspiring place to build your slides
Most of us have inspiring places where we get our best work done. For some, it’s in a tent while camping. For others, it may be at the beach. One of my inspiring places (believe it or not) is 38,000 feet in the air (which is where I happen to be composing this post). It’s my “me time”, and it allows me to get some really good work done. When building your slides, find your place of inspiration and rely on it. It can make all the difference.
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Bonus Tip: know your equipment and environment beforehand
I can’t tell you how many times I sit through a presentation when the presenter either hasn’t tested his presentation on the actual equipment (projector, LED, etc) that he/she is using, or even if they have, the resolution doesn’t match the ideal resolution for the equipment (i.e.: black bars on the left and right side of the slides). Yuk! As with other tips above, this lack of preparation conveys of sense of laziness on the part of the presenter. Before giving your presentation, ask these questions about the venue and equipment:
- How many will be in attendance?
- How large is the display?
- What make and model is the projector/LCD/LED?
- What resolution is the display (will it be widescreen, 3:4 ratio, etc)?