Leadership & Communication

PowerPoint or PowerPointless: Designing presentations that engage

22 Jul 2013, by Informa Australia

Whether it’s university, the boardroom or conferences – we’ve all experienced a PowerPoint presentation that puts the audience to sleep. Visual aids can bring a topic to life, but if used incorrectly they can make speeches confusing, disjointed or even more monotonous.

Anyone who has had the dubious pleasure of sitting through a friend or family member’s catalogue of holiday photos will probably know this all too well! However, with just a few adjustments you can make your presentations the highlight of any conference or office meeting, keeping the audience engaged, curious and learning.

One point, one slide

This is a common mantra when it comes to presentations, and it’s definitely a good place to start when putting together yours. Overloading single slides with masses of text, pictures, facts and figures will leave audience members scratching their heads, while you furiously try to cover everything in the allotted time.

Aim to get across one main theme or idea per slide, combined with a solid image or other visual.

And ‘one point, one slide’ doesn’t mean you should then try to put as much information on that idea in as possible – around five or six lines of text should be the maximum and only a few words per line.

Don’t be afraid to use images

While the most experienced speakers will break up their slides with images, many people aren’t aware of how important attention-grabbing visuals can be. In fact, if the image is solid enough it can carry the entire slide, with perhaps just a floated quote or statistic to create context.

But if this tip has got you rummaging through your clipart gallery, then perhaps pause for a second.

Clichéd, run-of-the-mill pictures are almost as bad as no pictures!

Find good-quality images that don’t just fill the page, but bring it to life and add to the themes you are trying to get across.

Effective design and layout

Just because a PowerPoint presentation should be simple, doesn’t mean it can’t have an effective design and layout.

Learn the basics of design elements; you may not need to know enough to build a flashy website, but you should certainly be able to stop your slides from being overcrowded, confusing and lacking in colour co-ordination.

Use of white space, colour and unifying concepts can really bring cohesion to a presentation that makes it as pleasant on the eye as on the ear.

Remember, it’s better to leave a space blank than to fill it with something irrelevant.

It’s all about you

All of the above tips should help you to put together a presentation that dazzles your audience, but the most important part of any presentation is the speaker.

If your message doesn’t connect with the audience you may be in for a long night, regardless of how professional your PowerPoint slides are.

One of the cardinal sins of using slides in a presentation is that nervous speakers can tune out the audience and read robotically from the big screen.

Instead, you should be trying to build a bridge with your listeners, utilising slides to emphasise the points you are already making – rather than relying on them to do the job for you.

An effective way of building rapport is to tell a story. People love stories, particularly humorous ones, so try to bring any dry facts and figures to life with an anecdote.

And don’t be afraid to take questions throughout the presentation – not only does this show people are interested, but it can break up a long-running monologue.

Make sure you’re well versed enough on the subject to answer them correctly though!

Register your interest to participate in a training course with focus on presenting to boards.

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