The Accomplished Solopreneur

Issue 22.40

Saturday, October 1, 2022

How to make (and deliver) better presentations

Presentations are a necessity in business. We use presentations to educate, inform and call people to action.

But too many presentations suck. Here are the top “sucky” things, how you can make better presentations, and one thing you can do to be a great presenter.

The biggest presentation no-no’s

The two biggest mistakes I see with presentations are:

  • Walls of text (or bullet points)
  • The speaker droning on about what’s on screen

Combine these two, and you have a presenter reading through the wall of text—a recipe for a getting your audience to zone out, start checking their phones or take a nap.

Walls of text (or bullet points)

When you put up a slide with a wall of text, your audience:

  • tunes you out…
  • …so they can read what you wrote.

Immediately, you’ve lost their attention. Some people will try to listen to you, but at least half of them are reading what you have on the slide.

The speaker droning on about what’s on screen

Just repeating what you put up on the screen is not particularly engaging. Your audience is now politely listening to what you’re saying, but they already know what’s coming. Your ability to influence their emotions, educate or inform them is lost.

How to create a better presentation

Here’s the recipe I use:

1. Create a structure

The first thing is to decide what you want from the presentation. Or more specifically, what you want your audience to know, understand or do at the end of it.

Then make a list of the key points you need to cover to achieve the outcome you’re looking for. Arrange these key points so that they logically follow on each other.

Then check: if you cover these points in this order, will you achieve what you want from the presentation?

Use this structure to create the slides you’re going to use.

2. Start your presentation right

There are two things that will help you engage your audience from the start:

  • Tell them what’s in it for them (what they will learn or be asked to do), and
  • tell them the key points you’re going to cover.

These two things will set clear expectations and give them a timeline so they can track progress.

3. Never show everything all at once

Rather, use animations to display each piece of content when you speak about it.

This avoids cognitive overload and keeps your audience engaged (because they don’t know what’s coming next).

4. Replace all text with pictures

OK, that’s not quite true. You’re always going to need text on your slides, but using pictures have one big advantage:

A picture is a lot more memorable than text.

Here’s the process I use to convert (most of) my text to pictures:

  • Write down (in text) the key points you want to cover in the slide.
  • Convert each key point into a picture or diagram.
  • Animate the pictures so they show up at logical points in your talk.

Your picture can be a photo, a diagram or cartoon characters.

This method of turning text into pictures is a lot more effort than just presenting it as text. But the impact you will make—and how memorable it will be—is far better with picture and diagrams.

5. Include a summary and a call to action

Finally, include a summary of the main points you made. This helps your audience remember the main things (because they’re not going to remember all the details).

And finally, include a call to action. This will of course depend on your presentation and the goal you’re trying to achieve. Give them something to take home (or to their office) so you can follow up later.

One thing you can do be a great presenter

Rehearse, rehearse and rehearse again.

I know my presentation is going to go well when I can talk through my whole presentation without looking at the slides.

Now, I know we all need a little reminder of where we are in the story, so we need to glance at the slides every now and then.

But if you have to look at your slides all the time, you lose eye contact with your audience and your delivery will start to break up.

Before I do a presentation, I get up from my desk and use my remote control to walk through the presentation multiple times. This helps me practice what I need to say, how fast I’m going, and also gives me an indication of how long the presentation will run.

Getting really good takes practice

A presentation is often the first chance you get to impress your audience. Get it right, and they will come back for more. Get it wrong, and that first impression will last.

But if you do get it wrong, don’t be too hard on yourself. I’ve gotten pretty decent at presentations because I’ve been doing it for a long time. I started out pretty raw and can still remember a couple of cringe-worthy moments. But with practice you will get better.

Good luck in your next presentation!