Do you have to give a presentation soon? Try to make it your best one, yet. Give it your best shot. Even if it seems negligible. Your audience will thank you and reward you. It will make you grow.
You may have heard about this topic before. You’ve probably already figured out your own presentation-creation-workflow.
However, you have been to that awkward presentation, the one you left worse than you entered it. Strained, bored, tired and hardly more clever than before the talk. You surely don’t want to be the one who gives that presentation.
Every presentation is an interruption. Your listeners could spend their time on something else. They could be reading about this stuff.
Are you worth their attention?
Perhaps, this time it’s time to do things differently. Perhaps it’s time to reconsider and throw conventions over board.
I don’t want you to give a bad presentation. For this, I want you to avoid the following mistakes.
Being late to the game
If you want to improve anything about your presentation skills, don’t be late to the game. The whole thing - from first thoughts to final product - takes plenty of time. The majority of this time is used before you have even built a single slide.
If you start your presentation-creation by opening Microsoft PowerPoint, you definitely got something wrong. If you are used to starting the construction of a presentation inside a dedicated presentation program, try to reverse engineer your process now.
Define your idea and map it out.
I use MindNode as my tool of choice, but sometimes I just use a large piece of white paper.
Collect your research and pin it to your map.
My map evolves as I go through the literature. I may even disapprove of my initial ideas and further follow a different train of thought.
Create and shuffle your outline.
I love dedicated outlining software like the OmniGroup’s OmniOutliner, but I hardly make use of these dedicated programs when building a presentation.
If you do so, you can almost bypass the next step below. I’ll tell you how.
Build your actual slides.
I use a magical app called Deckset for my presentations. It does all the heavy lifting of layouting, resizing, adjusting, positioning, data merging and so on that used to take me hours in programs like Keynote or PowerPoint.
With its own approach and its own design language, it’s probably not for everybody (as I supposed not all of you are going to get rid of all conventions right away). However, it has evolved decisively since it was first released.
So far, Deckset is Mac only, but the Markdown thing lets you work on your presentation from virtually everywhere. You just need a text editor.
Personally, I have used it on all kinds of presentations from smaller concept inputs to scientific talks.
Going through your presentation before presentation day is the magic spice to your success. Visualisation is great, but why not actually speak it? Oh, and take a timer. It helps you with the next step.
Prune and shorten.
Be ruthless with the first drafts of your presentation. Shorter and less are better most of the time.
I find it hard to prescribe exact numbers of slides or a time frame for your presentation, even though some have written about it.
Oh, and be ruthless with all the subconscious verbal fill-ins and beatings-around-the-bush that come while actually giving (e.g. speaking out loud) your presentation.
It’s best to repeat this last step several times. Take your time between each pruning cycle. Sleep over it for a night, then get back to purging your draft.
The missing story
What are you trying to say, after all?
People crave stories. They are moved by stories. Stories are part of our nature and have been essential to human culture since our earliest ancestors. Humans define and share themselves through stories.
The difference between a presentation and a fact sheet is the social experience. People have come to hear you speak. You have their attention.
There is a bond between you and the audience through your presentation. That bond is the story you are telling.
A story is what plays our keys. It’s what stirs our imagination. A story creates images in a listeners head.
A story is vivid and alive. It finds its way into our brains easily. There, it nests itself and thrives. In turn, it makes the listener part of what you are presenting.
Mere facts on the other hand are sterile and impersonal. Their way into the mind is through repetition, studying and other methods of force.
And don’t forget, humans can only handle a reasonable amount of information during a presentation and there is such a thing as information overload. You don’t need to tell everything.
The speaker who is not in it for the audience
A presentation with a story needs someone to tell it. You are the essential part that makes your presentation. You should know that role of yours and you should be confident about it.
You are obliged to tell the story to your audience. You are meant to make eye contact and never show your back. You are meant to teach and inspire. It’s an honour and a highly responsible task.
So why are you hiding behind a computer? Why are you turning around to read from the screen? Why have you dimmed the lights? Why aren’t you speaking in your own voice?
The speaker who is controlled by his slides
Your slides are merely a tool. They are supposed to make your ideas float. They are meant to be in harmony with what you are saying.
Slides are great if they support and supplement your story. However, they cannot be a substitute for a missing story.
If you create harmony between you, your story and your presentation, your slides will tend to reduce themselves. The more you are conveying with your spoken words the more minimal they can become.
Remember, it’s you who does the talking. It’s not the slides that make you read.
So keep your notes separated from your slides. I am sure your presentation software has a presenter’s mode of some sort. That’s a place to put them. Another place for your notes or expanded text is a written handout. (I love them prosaic, but that’s a matter of choice.)
Do you put bullet points on your slides? Ditch this bad habit.
Use narration instead of text. Even better, consider slides without any words at all.
If you cannot do without words, settle for one word per slide. Or maybe two. (It’s called the Takahashi method.) A single word can go pretty deep. Maybe you need to break down your train of thought into a couple of individual slides to go this far reductionist.
If you take your slides to a state of zen, there is no need for transitions, animations and corporate design. (In fact, not adhering to a corporate design slide template is a paramount step towards your maturation as a great presenter.)
Do you use images in your slides?
Make them big. Center them and take them full screen. Make them the highest quality you can get. Play around with filters and image editing. I love monochromatic images. They cut distraction and deepen focus.
Big filtered images are part of the magic behind @decksetapp, my favourite presentation software.
Have you have ever pointed at important stuff on your slides? Yes, laser pointers are acceptable, but why not walk over and point with your finger?
The speaker who takes too much time
Try to finish your presentation early. It’s what nobody expects. And it’s always a pleasant surprise.
It’s not about rushing, though. On the contrary, you have to take your time, breath and advance slowly.
And don’t jump slides. Each has its own purpose and all are essential. If you still find something superfluous, you probably haven’t gone through enough pruning sequences (remember above?).