5 simple ideas to make your next presentation sizzle

Used wisely, PowerPoint and similar tools can help make your message memorable. It’s all about knowing what to do—and what not to do.


Creating effective PowerPoint presentations is rarely taught, but somehow we’re all expected to craft dazzling presentations. They rarely dazzle; they usually fizzle.

There are effective ways to use PowerPoint, particularly as a visual backdrop to your story. And it’s not the only game in town anymore.

Apple’s Keynote has earned staunch support from the design community. Tools such as Prezi have re-imagined what a presentation should look like, and online software like Sliderocket and Slideshare have enabled us to collaborate and share presentations virtually. The idea of what a presentation “is” is being reinvented over and over again as technologies emerge.

So what’s a novice presentation designer to do? First, don’t lose hope. We’re still in the first leg of this race. Presentation designers have emerged to help companies take off like Usain Bolt, but you can still get a leg up on those competitors who are still in the starting blocks.

Here are five simple ways to make your PowerPoint presentations sizzle:

1. What’s your story?

An effective presentation requires a narrative; you want your audience to remember your message. It’s the free-time paradox: We don’t have 30 seconds anymore to listen to a sales pitch (DVRs are a blessing), but we have 30 minutes to hear a great story.

Find the story at the heart of your presentation by asking, “What are your audience’s needs? What do they care about? What problems are keeping them up at night? How will your product or service make their lives better?”

2. Focus on one idea.

You’re lucky if your audience walks away remembering even one idea you presented; that’s just the reality of presenting. So if your audience should retain one thing, what would that be? Find that one idea—that one reason you’re standing up there presenting—and make sure every bit of content in your presentation revolves around that idea. If it doesn’t, you have to scrap it. “Kill your darlings,” as the saying goes.

3. Shatter your template.

PowerPoint templates are inherently constricting, and most are terrible. Most businesses require employees to use a template, which is fine, but if the template doesn’t give a wide variety of slide options, it will inhibit the employee. If you can ditch the template, ditch it. If not, see how far you can take it. Can you use full-bleed images? Does the logo have to be on every slide?

4. Images, images, images.

What was revolutionary five years ago is now old hat—but it’s a very important hat. Using vibrant images brings your presentation to life and provides a visual cue that your audience’s brains can attach to your message.

Dr. John Medina, author of “Brain Rules” (a fantastic book), says, “Vision trumps all other senses.” Vision is our most dominant sense, using half our brain’s resources, he says, and adding an image to a text-based message can increase recall by 55 percent. Use tools such as Compfight to find free images to augment your ideas.

5. Give your ideas room to breathe.

People retain just so much information at once, and when multiple ideas are delivered on one slide (often as bullet points), there’s little opportunity for the audience to attach a visual cue to each idea. Thus, audience recall is drastically reduced. Instead, put each important idea on its own slide, along with supporting imagery. (Don’t worry about how many additional slides this creates.)

There’s no difference between spending two minutes on one slide or 30 seconds on each of four slides). Your idea and its supporting points are like actors in a play. You rarely recall those in the ensemble, but those in the spotlight are unforgettable. Allow each point within your presentation its own time to shine.

Creating an effective presentation, particularly when using PowerPoint, is far more than just knowing how to import images and resize fonts. If you follow these five tips, you’ll launch out of that starting block and be well on your way to creating dynamic presentations that resonate with audiences for days, weeks, months, or even years.

Jon Thomas is communications director for Story Worldwide and a curator at the upcoming Post-Advertising Summit in New York City on March 29. This post first appeared on grow.

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