5 ways to power up your PowerPoint

The nature of the speaker and the audience are the foundation on which you can build an outstanding presentation.

Most people would say it’s easier to write a PowerPoint about something already interesting, such as ice cream flavors, than it is to write about a plastic mold service—and in some ways, that’s true. But the real deciding factor in what makes a powerful PowerPoint has little to do with subject matter and much more to do with the one who’s working with it.

Whether a sales presentation works or flops is usually in the hands of the writer. In other words, crafting an effective PowerPoint is less about the content and more about the content strategy.

What does this mean for writers? When you’re building a PowerPoint presentation for your sales team, what can you do to make sure they’ll come out on top?

To help answer that question, here are some tips for writing a powerful PowerPoint:

1. Know your speaker.

Especially when you’re creating a PowerPoint for someone else to use, a clear understanding of how they work is crucial. There must be a clear understanding between the writer and the presenter, both in terms of the content on the slides and in terms of the way those slides will work. Make sure the speaker knows to use the slides as a springboard, not a script; he or she will want to use the PowerPoint to amplify the speech, not make it. In many cases, it’s helpful to write a separate script for the speaker to use, one detailing what to say and outlining the main ideas to communicate.

Tips for writing a good PowerPoint script: Think of a basic storyline with a beginning, middle, and end. Give the speaker an interesting introduction to pull people in and a powerful conclusion to finish up, sandwiching your points and content in between them. Try to leave the audience wanting more.

2. Know your audience.

Understanding who will be receiving a presentation goes a long way toward figuring out how to reach them. When you’re working on a presentation about credit card processing machines for small business, for example, ask yourself who will be listening: Potential small-business clients? Company employees? Long-term clients looking for new options? Each case would warrant a different focus and thrust in your content; that should help you see what’s important to include or leave out.

Tips for getting to know your audience: The salespeople who conduct presentations are often the most in tune with prospective clients. Talk to them about what the nature and needs of the audience. You may also wish to conduct surveys, polls, or other market research to inform your writing.

3. Keep it simple.

Keeping things simple is a good rule of thumb throughout your PowerPoint design: Stick to an attractive, consistent color scheme throughout, rather than introducing loud and multiple colors; stick to simple phrases rather than long and detailed paragraphs; and try to keep the whole presentation to 10 to 12 slides, tops. Likewise, use fonts that are clear and legible from a distance, and always put dark text on a light background (or in a few cases, light on dark).

Tips for staying simple: Have someone else look at the presentation beforehand to gain fresh perspective. Ask yourself if the message is coming across or whether something could be muddying it. Remove any distracting elements, and focus on being clear.

4. Use professional photos and images.

They say a picture’s worth a thousand words, so use relevant and attractive images, charts, graphics, etc., to add to the presentation’s message. If your goal is to sell warehouse safety equipment, for example, then maybe one slide would feature a large graphic of factory accident statistics. If you’re marketing vacation rentals in Florida, you might add images of the tropical scenery. You could even add photographs of your product(s), whatever they are, depending on how well seeing them could enhance your audience’s interest.

Tips for finding photos: Beyond your in-house photos and graphics, there are many online sources for stock images. Try the royalty-free images on Fotolia to start! Just be careful not to overdo the images either, though: Use only those graphics that will add to your message rather than detract from it.

5. Include questions.

Questions can be beneficial to a PowerPoint presentation for many reasons: They draw interest, encourage discussion, and help keep listeners engaged. Plus, in any kind of speech or presentation, questions not only help engage the audience but they also create little breaks for the speaker—short pauses from talking to listen to the responses.

Tips on asking questions: There are two helpful types of questions you can use in your presentations: questions that you want to answer, and questions you want the audience to answer. Think of all the ways this could help your presentation: fact-filled FAQs, little trivia tests, open dialogue, requests for feedback. See what works for you.

With these five tips, you’ll be well on your way to creating a winning PowerPoint presentation that your sales team will thank you for. Can you envision how implementing these strategies will change the way you write? Which other factors have you found to be essential in crafting a PowerPoint presentation that sells?

Shanna Mallon is a writer for Straight North, an Internet marketing company located near Chicago. A version of this article originally ran on The Straight North Blog. Contact Straight North on Twitter via @StraightNorth.

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