How to avoid death by PowerPoint – 9 Practical tips to captivate an audience with your presentation

You may have attended presentations that dragged or others that gripped people throughout. Perhaps you have given talks yourself and wondered what really makes the difference.

Whatever the situation, there are numerous factors that affect your chances of success. Everything you do contributes to the overall audience experience and even small things make a big difference.

This guide gives you 9 proven, practical tips to deliver more engaging and more effective presentations. Each one makes a positive impact, and you will know best which will be most useful in your own presentations.

1. Ask yourself – Do I really need to use slides for this presentation?

This is a serious question. We so often assume that PowerPoint slides are required. Yet if you think of great speakers, they are not remembered for their slides.

This is not to say that slides are not helpful but key questions are;

  • Do I always need to use them?
  • What other visual means can I use? E.g. flipchart, whiteboard.
  • What else would be really effective? E.g. a story, anecdote, demonstration.

One of the problems with PowerPoint is that almost everyone uses it. If you want to make yourself and your message memorable then consider something different.

2. Sketch your idea on a flipchart or whiteboard

There are amazing benefits of a quick sketch. A drawing can help to convey;

  • Key messages
  • Diagrams
  • Processes
  • Project plans
  • Strategies
  • Abstract concepts

The reasons this works so well are;

  • The moment you make a mark on a blank surface you will capture attention.
  • There is a world of difference between presenting a pre-prepared image and sketching ‘live’ as you speak.
  • You will hold interest as you build up the graphic.
  • People find it very easy to follow and remember ideas presented in this way.

You do not have to be great at drawing to use this technique really effectively

Simple lines, shapes and symbols and even stick figures work really well.

For example, if you sketch and label the steps in a project as you explain it, people will follow it easily;

When you draw, even a simple picture, your ideas will be memorable.

3. Don’t have a slide for everything you say – just use visuals that enhance your talk

Many presentations have slides for everything the presenter is about to say. This creates the following problems:

  • Results in a large number of slides.
  • Lack of variation in style of presenting.
  • Unnecessary – you are there to explain so you don’t need it all written on slides.

Instead – think of yourself as the presentation and your slides as a support

  • Be selective with your slides – they will have greater impact.
  • Many things are better explained without a slide.
  • When you just talk to people without a slide they will automatically look at you.
  • You can make eye contact directly – which helps you to connect with them.
  • This will enable you to be more persuasive.

4. Minimise the number of slides with text – use more pictures, diagrams and graphics

Too much text in presentations impedes the brain’s ability to absorb information.

  • Lines of text tend to look very similar.

  • But the brain enjoys and remembers things that are different and varied.
  • Cut the number of slides with text to a minimum.
  • Where you do use text – use only several brief bullet points.

Use pictures wherever possible to make your ideas stick – metaphors work brilliantly

For example, We are in shark-infested waters;

If you draw the picture in front of the audience it adds to the intrigue.

5. Have a strong key message supported by a memorable visual

Research shows how well people remember pictures – so link one to your key message.

The ability of the brain to recall pictures is almost limitless. Even a hand-drawn image works really well.

For example, a stick figure on a high wire is enough to illustrate the message; ‘There is no safety net.’

6. Don’t speak whilst people are reading text on your slides – let them look first

People process information perfectly well in verbal or written form, but not both at the same time – concluded a study by the University of New South Wales.

  • People therefore find it difficult to read text whilst the presenter is explaining it.
  • This results in people finding it hard to maintain attention.
  • It leads to tiredness and comments such as ‘Death by PowerPoint’.

Instead – give people time to glance through text before speaking

  • Keep quiet for a few seconds as you first show a slide of bullet points.
  • People will glance through them.
  • Then explain each point in turn.

Look where you want the audience to look

  • If you want them to look at a point on the visual – look at it yourself and gesture towards it. People will always follow your eyes and look where you look.
  • Then return your gaze to the audience when you want them to look back at you.
  • You will see that they do exactly that.
  • If your eye contact is with the audience they will stay focused on you.

7. Use a famous quote to make a point

Using a famous quote works really well.

For example, ‘Don’t be afraid to take a big step if one is indicated. You can’t cross a chasm in two jumps.’

David Lloyd George (1863 – 1946), British Prime Minister.

There are endless quotes to choose from and each one can be related to many topics.

8. Make slides a two-way experience – ask questions to engage the brain

One of the causes of ‘Death by PowerPoint’ is that presentations are so often a one-way experience. Such a bombardment can only be tolerated for a short time, after which the audience tends to switch off. Presenters are often confronted with glazed looks as people struggle to keep up.

Instead – Don’t just tell – ask questions, especially in advance of showing slides

Questions engage the brain therefore get people guessing. A great way to do this is just before you introduce a slide. Rhetorical questions work very well – you don’t necessarily want people to call out answers.

For example,

  • “I am going to show the results of our three main competitors. I wonder of you can guess which is which?”
  • “The next slide has the three most common complaints from customers last year. See if you have experienced any of these.”
  • “Here are three proven ways to double the profit in a business like ours. Which do you think is the most achievable?”

There are numerous benefits including;

  • You will see positive reactions as their minds are active.
  • It helps you create a two-way experience which people enjoy.
  • You are able to break up a presentation and create variety.

9. Press the magic ‘B’ key – to make the PowerPoint slide disappear

When someone asks a question unrelated to the current PowerPoint slide, it can be a distraction to leave that slide on show. Likewise, you may suddenly think of a point that is unrelated to a current visual and want to temporarily remove that image from view.

In these instances, press the ‘B’ button on the keyboard.

  • Pressing ‘B’ results in the screen image conveniently disappearing.
  • To make the slide to reappear press ‘B’ again.

There are many benefits to this including;

  • Increased flexibility to manage your presentation.
  • You move to the most influential position – the centre – without having an image projected onto you.

Enjoy using these proven techniques

Enjoy using these practical ideas in your presentations and see the positive reactions for yourself. You will find they can be applied to numerous topics with great results. For more tips and advice on presenting and delivering pitches, try these other guides;

About the author

This article has been written for ByteStart by Graham Shaw. He is the author of The Art of Business Communication (published by Pearson) and the founder of Vision Learning.

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