By Eric Markowitz
Are you guilty of information overload? Do you abuse Clip Art? Here, the experts weigh in on how to create a pitch-perfect PowerPoint presentation.
“There’s something in the air.” With these five words, Steve Jobs opened the 2008 Macworld conference. Jobs is often cited as one of corporate America’s greatest presenters, and that’s simply because he understands one thing: how to tell a story. Like any great sales pitch, an effective PowerPoint offers a compelling narrative; it elicits an emotional response from the audience, even if the subject is, say, debt consolidation, or finance derivatives. The trick is to understand how to engage your listeners, keep them focused, and use the right visual imagery to convey your message. So whether you’re pitching an idea to investors, introducing a new product to your clients, or simply reviewing your company’s quarterly results, a great PowerPoint presentation will leave your audience feeling inspired.
Creating a great PowerPoint is simpler than you might think. More often than not, you don’t need to be a great designer, writer or orator to come up with an attention-grabbing presentation. What you do need, however, is an understanding of how to capture an audience’s focus—and perhaps a bit of their imagination. Here are a few tips on how to create a PowerPoint that your audience won’t forget.
Creating a Great PowerPoint: Create a narrative.
“One thing I like to do is make sure there’s a logical story,” says Janet Bornemann, the creative director of PowerPoint Studio, based in Acton, Massachusetts. Bornemann, who designs PowerPoint presentations for corporate clients, says that just like any piece of good writing, there needs to be a beginning, middle, and an end to your presentation. Traditionally, in the beginning of the presentation you tell the audience what you plan to cover, in the middle of the presentation you tell them, and in the end, you tell them what you’ve told them. One clever tip Bornemann recommends is to use five words per line, and five lines per slide.
Guy Kawasaki, a venture capitalist and Inc. contributor, has his own technique for creating a storyline for an entrepreneur’s PowerPoint presentation to investors. His method, which he calls the 10/20/30 rule, is a great way to structure your presentation’s story. “It’s quite simple,” Kawasaki wrote on his blog, How to Change the World. “A PowerPoint presentation should have ten slides, last no more than twenty minutes, and contain no font smaller than thirty points.”
Kawasaki’s recommended structure for any entrepreneurial presentation is as follows:
2. Your solution
3. Business model
4. Underlying magic/technology
5. Marketing and sales
8. Projections and milestones
9. Status and timeline
10. Summary and call to action
Regardless of a specific structure you choose for your presentation, your story needs to accomplish three goals: frame the issue, present the challenge, and explain how you will solve the problem.
Creating a Great PowerPoint: Less is more.
At some point or another, we’ve all sat through a PowerPoint presentation flooded with an endless stream of bullet points, sentences, or even full paragraphs. It may seem obvious, but according to Bornemann, this is one of the biggest—and most common—mistakes made by presenters. And when the presenter lists too much detail on the slides, few people will be able to retain any of it.
A great presentation “should really just give the highlights,” says Bornemann. Steve Jobs, for example, is famous for using virtually no text at all— an icon of a new product or two or three “big picture” words will suffice. “People are afraid to use a slide with one word, but it has merit, because we have to process information before we go on to the next idea,” Bornemann says. It’s also good to segment presentations in places where your audience’s mind can sum up—and process—the information, so that they’re actually able to think about what you’re telling them.
“It’s very important for the mind to be able to rest on an idea or a thought, so if it’s a constant flow of words, people will grow tired,” she adds.
Jim Confalone, the founder and creative director of ProPoint Graphics, a graphic design studio based in New York City, says that people simply stop paying attention to slides with too much text on them. “It becomes like wallpaper,” he says. In other words, it becomes easy to tune out.
Your audience needs to digest information. Don’t be afraid to linger on a slide or create a slide with just one picture and nothing else. Taking risks like these will help sell your presentation to your audience, and keep them from getting that “glazed over” look of boredom.
Creating a Great PowerPoint: Branding is key.
Clip Art: the enemy of any great PowerPoint presentation. When assembling slides for a presentation, Clip Art, slide transitions, and other tacky animations are an easy way to pollute your brand’s message. While they’re easy to use, they make your brand seem generic and outdated. After all, anyone with Microsoft has access to the same catalogue of images, and more than likely has seen it all before.
“You don’t want to have a circus of effects,” says Bornemann. “Be consistent with colors and fonts. Focus on the message—everything has to have a reason.” And, she adds, “effects ‘on steroids’ don’t have a reason.”
It’s also easy to fall into the trap of overusing charts and graphs to illustrate a point. However, if the graphic doesn’t support the information or push the presentation forward, it’s not necessary to the ‘story.’ “As soon as it turns into an arbitrary thing, we throw it out,” says Confalone. “If the content is not there, nothing you do is going to work. “
Creating a Great PowerPoint: Rehearse, rehearse, and rehearse once more.
The presentation on the screen is just as important as the speaker’s presentation off the screen. When giving the PowerPoint Presentation, it’s essential to add a little flavor to the speech.
“Most speakers get into presentation mode and feel as though they have to strip the talk of any fun,” Carmine Gallo, a communication coach, wrote in his Business Week column recently. “If you are not enthusiastic about your own products or services, how do you expect your audience to be?”
According to Confalone, there are two ways a speaker can fail in his or her presentation: a lack confidence, or a misconception about what the audience will retain from the speech.
The only real way to boost confidence is to practice. If you spend 15 hours putting together the presentation, spend another 15 practicing it. Don’t rely too much on notes, since the audience will be looking at you to engage with them—not your script.
Confalone also stresses to his clients that most viewers will walk away from a presentation with only the very key points. Therefore, it’s essential not to confuse your audience with the minutia or details that are best left for a handout.
All PowerPoint presentations are trying to sell you something, even if it’s just an idea, product, or the presenter himself. A “boring” topic is no excuse for a “boring” presentation. “Sexy or not, you need to distill the key points in the conversation,” Confalone says. “That element of persuasion is the key to it.”
Eric Markowitz reports on start-ups, entrepreneurs, and issues that affect small businesses. Previously, he worked at Vanity Fair. He lives in New York City. @EricMarkowitz