Presentations. A critical element of many jobs and not something we’re all naturals at. As someone who trained in theatre before entering a career in advertising, the job of presenting was always something I found fairly easy. However I’ve had to learn a lot about communicating, sometimes dense information, and a large part of what I’ve learnt has come from watching so many people get it wrong. Regularly sitting down and hearing weeks of work undermined by the speaker not spending those extra few hours on the presentation itself.

You can easily pour hours into a presentation which doesn’t communicate what you’re trying to say, or to which no one listens to because its kept dryer than a walnut shell.

Ultimately the role of the presentation is to summarise and communicate what you know and understand, making it digestible and memorable for your audience. To devalue the work you’ve done at this stage is a shame and something which will make you look less impressive than perhaps you are. On the other hand, a slick presentation will paper over any small cracks.

I work in a creative industry; our presentations set a benchmark for everything we deliver. Even so, I still see some really quite poor presentations. ‘Elegant’ designs that leave everyone squinting to read the headlines. Animations all over the place which stop you reading the actual content. These are easy potholes to dodge, so let’s start there.

Things to avoid:

–       Deciding the presentation itself needs to be boring but you’ll add a “fun quiz” at the end to engage people. This is kind of a waste of time. Chances are your quiz isn’t that fun unless you’re presenting in a pub and your creative energy would have been better spent doing a more attractive and engaging presentation.

–       Being REALLY lazy with design. There are so many templates already done for you, what does it cost to make sure you’ve been consistent with your font?

–       Overstuffing when it comes to the information. What’s the important bit? If your presentation requires a lot of information, consider presenting a trimmed down version and sending all the supporting data as a follow up.

–       Writing out everything you plan to say in scripted bullets ready for you to stare at and read aloud.

–       Going hard on the GIFs. The present day equivalent of animating all your text entrances and exits… Personally, I’d keep GIFs out of a presentation. If you want people to actually focus on the content, the dancing goose next to your text is a sure-fire way to ensure the headline won’t get read.

–       Not having a back-up plan if the tech fails you. Most people will tell you to check the volume, computer etc in advance. Yes, do this, but tech is unreliable and it can screw you over. Have a plan just in case.

If you’ve been guilty of the above, you’re in good company. But…

“The first step toward change is awareness.” – Nathaniel Branden

What to do instead:

Use a Master Design Template

Your company may already have a master design for presentations – protecting their brand from too much chaos. If you’re using this, it’s generally best to be faithful to it. Font, colours, etc. If design is all down to you, start by making the key layout choices using the master template design function, rather than on individual slides. It’s quicker and gives you the easiest way to be consistent. In powerpoint, this is called the Slide Master and found under the ‘View’ tab. If you start here you can set the layouts, colours, fonts, logo placement etc for your main slides, ensuring your deck is consistent.

Think about your opening

How do you want to bring people in and get their attention? Confident marketeers often open their presentations with a story. It commands people’s focus and makes them think differently. A relevant quote can be another good opener.

Do Two Versions

This isn’t always necessary, but if what you’re presenting is backed up by lots of research, you may want to approach your presentation this way. Having one document with all the information to follow up with (sometimes called a ‘leave-behind’), in case people ask for more detail, and one with the key highlights you really need people to understand and remember.

Clear headlines 

Which brings me on to your headlines… a long interconnected journey of small pieces of information might be how you’ve come to understand what is is you’re talking about. But people need take-aways. A good exercise is thinking about the three sentences you’d like your audience to be able to recall. Make sure these are isolated in some way.  

“If you have an important point to make, don’t try to be subtle or clever. Use a pile driver. Hit the point once. Then come back and hit it again. Then hit it a third time – a tremendous whack.” – Winston Churchill

Get the basic sh*t right

Mis-spellings, punctuation marks, word double ups. They’re remarkably distracting when you’re watching presentations. Pay attention to detail here to make sure the focus is where you want it.

And… practice

If you get nervous, just go to a room alone and run through/rehearse. It’s amazing how many typos and structural errors can be missed when you’re just staring at a laptop. It’s also worth using this prep time to check the length of your presentation, as can be quite awks if you’re way under or over your allotted time.

“No audience ever complained about a presentation or speech being too short.” – Stephen Keague

If you’re looking to be inspired, the humble Ted Talk is a great place to start – one of the most accessible ways to watch well planned and executed presentations.