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When is a picture worth a 1,000 words, not a thousand questions? When it’s used wisely in PPT.

Over the past few weeks we have mentioned the importance of visuals as we have explored different perspectives of preparing for a presentation. This week I want to focus solely on the visual element of your presentation.

ppt_imageHistorically, presentations were solely and completely oratory – there were no visuals. Oh I suppose you could argue that Grog the caveman may have used a cave wall, a fire-blackened stick as his pointer and the camp fire as his projector but what were his handouts? Sometimes I feel like I’ve been around meetings as long as poor Grog. Once upon a time, projector slides were used. It was a tedious process that required extreme advanced planning and a whole AV support department if the carousel got out of order or hung up.

Then “PowerPoint” came along…. It was a game-changer. PowerPoint leveled the field and gave anyone the ability to either use great visuals or bad visuals. Throwing images on a slide does not constitute a presentation. You have to think through what image supports which thought. Here are ten basic rules….

  1. Slides with only words should have no more than 7 bullets per slide with no more than 7 words per bullet.
  2. Text size on slide is proportional to size of the delivery screen. Don’t use a 12 point font size EVER. Choosing a font size to make “all the words fit” breaks rule #1. Test your presentation. Visit the room. See where your presentation will be. Is the room dark? Will there be a light source in the room?
  3. While you have lots of options with font types, colors, bolds, italics, shadows…these should be used for emphasizing a point. Wrongly placed, such creativity distracts from your message.
  4. Charts and graphs’ axis must be clearly labeled. There must be a legend. No exception.
  5. Clip art can help drive home a point visually – or it can be distracting and irrelevant. Every slide doesn’t need clip art. Use it wisely.
  6. Slide order matters. Slides should augment your message outline and guide to the conclusion. If, when you practice, you find the flow seems disjointed try rearranging a slide or two.
  7. Number your slides. It helps the audience track for both note-taking and asking questions.
  8. Give credit where credit is due. Follow copyright rules.
  9. Your slides should be similar – Title size, Paragraph size, Font type, Background color, Font color, Logo usage, Use your company’s presentation theme if you have one. Consistency will allow your audience to focus more on your message.
  10. Use consistent slide transitions. It will help create a flow/continuity to your presentation and overall message.

Remember, think through what you are going to use visually. If the visual will raise a 1,000 questions, it may be telling you not to use it.

Be intentional

Don’t leave interpretation up to your audience. Use the Rule of Threes.

You’ve spent a lot of time and energy to craft your message. All the while, knowing you get one shot at communicating (kind of like this blog, perhaps?) – with little feedback. Your data is organized. Your flow, impeccable. But there’s one more element of the presentation you need to ensure. And it’s a big one. It’s the interpretation of your message. What will your audience leave with? What will they remember?

If you have watched the recent presidential debates I think the best part is what happens afterwards. The candidates or their “spin doctors” crowd into the press room each trying to “interpret” what you just heard. What they “really” meant. Why politicians can’t just use plain english like the rest of us is for another post. Perhaps they just didn’t remember to use “The Rule of Threes”.

Maybe they didn’t:

  1. Use three different ways to communicate the message such as a story, an example, or a memorable sentence.
  2. Use three different facts, data, or information to support their conclusions.
  3. Repeat the message three times throughout the presentation. Repetition helps people retain the message that needs to be remembered.

Take a moment to look at your presentation. Where can you incorporate the Rule of Threes in your presentation?

Be intentional

10 ideas (in 5 bullets) on using your presentation time well

Presentations always have a time limit. Always. Isn’t it fascinating most people believe they have to use every second? Why?

A presentation is not about filling a time slot but rather it’s about getting your message across and having it remembered. It’s how you use the minutes and not about using all the minutes. Quantity or quality? You get to decide.

Here’s “10” thought starters you can use the next time it’s your turn to plan the meeting’s message.

Think about how you will:

1. Gain your audience’s attention.
Snoopy always started his stories with, “It was a dark and stormy night…” What’s your opening? Your opening  draws the audience into your idea. Stories are a good way to focus a group on a concept. A strong visual may work too.

2. Keep their attention through the “boring bits.”
“When the eyes glaze, it’s time to raise…” your game. Voice inflection, planned movement (hand gestures, walking across the stage) and well done visuals are ways to keep regenerating your audience’s attention.

3. Own the conclusion.
After all the preparation, your conclusions must be the strongest part of your presentation. Is your conclusion a “?” “!” “.”  Your ending has to be as strong as the opening.

4. Prepare for the questions.
I’ve yet to see a presenter who did such a terrific job that there were no questions. Having back-up slides to address questions that may be asked keeps an audience from getting off track from your message. While you cannot be prepared for every question, you can be prepared for the most likely.

5, (and 6, and 7, and 8, and 9, and 10.) Practice your pitch.
Be sure you are able to deliver your message in less time than allotted. Meetings can get cut short. Life happens. Are you prepared for this? If you are organized in thought and prepared in your delivery you will be showing respect to your audience.

Be intentional

Four guidelines for your next presentation


Tree Solo by jay holobach

Have you ever had a conversation where something you said caused the “I have no idea what you are talking about” look? In a one-on-one conversation immediate feedback allows you adjust on the fly. Unfortunately, as a presenter, the audience-to-presenter feedback loop is a lot less immediate.

How do you avoid assuming everyone knows what you’re presenting? True, some of the audience may know some of the story but not all of it. You’re the presenter. You own the story line. You know its plot. Your job is to package the message in a way for the audience to comprehend the plot the same as you do.

Here are some “plot” guidelines for you to think through before your next presentation…

1. You are the Tour Guide (a.k.a. The Storyteller)
Have you ever been on a tour where the guide told a story so well you felt as if you were there when it happened? That’s someone who’s taken a bunch of facts and woven them together into a cohesive message. A story. A message that resonates.

Think of your presentation in a similar light. Remember last week’s blog? We said to identify the “big idea” and up to three main points to support it. Once you have that, your next move is to figure out how you want the audience to connect the dots. Do you want to lead with the main idea and then build support – or – start by building with the supports and finish with the main idea?  Whichever way you decide, don’t leave it up to the audience to connect the dots – they may end up with a different “big idea”.

2. Do not assume polite listening is comprehension.
You cannot assume your audience will understand what to do with the “big idea”.  If part of your message is to sell an “action”, you must be very clear on what that “action” is and its importance to the audience.  Do not assume everyone will arrive at the same “go do”.

3.  Leverage visuals to clarify your message. 
Every slide, every picture created must be done with the audience in mind. Remember, they are seeing it for the first time. You’ve lived with it for a week. They are trying to digest the image and listen to you talk. The average person comprehends nearly 200 words per minute. Throw in a visual (or two?) and you’ve created cognitive overload. (LESS IS MORE when creating slides/visuals.)

How many presentations have you seen where the visuals weren’t clearly marked, acronyms flew around the screen, and the message was lost? Going the extra mile to ensure your visuals are self-explanatory will help deliver your message. Let me repeat myself: Less is more.

4.  The audience doesn’t need every detail to get your “big idea”
My husband’s art teacher once told him to paint a tree doesn’t mean painting every leaf and branch in painstaking detail. A simple shape and color shift will tell the tree’s story. Similarly, when creating your presentation, filter out the less important “stuff” and organize the path of critical thinking.  The old adage “keep it simple” is applicable here.  Your job is to simply express the thought journey that arrives at your message.  No more, no less.

Be intentional

Data can be read – information must be presented. So what’s a presenter to do?

Continuing last week’s thought…

Seldom have I been asked to give a presentation on the topic of my choice. If so, I would have already talked about my husband’s love affair with remote controls. But alas, that’s for another post.

Typically, it’s more like… my boss wants me to present “something”, or report out on “something”. I get an agenda item (usually 5 words or less) being told to “present on this”. I have watched countless presenters use the agenda item as the “something” with no thought as to what the “message” about the “something”, or the meaning behind the topic. The results being that the audience walked away scratching their heads asking what was said and more importantly, why?

1. Know what message you want to deliver

Every “something” has sub-content. If it was just the “something”, a simple email would suffice. You, as the presenter, have been given a very valuable item – uninterrupted time of people to listen to you communicate a message.

What message do you want everyone to remember about the “something”? Identify the key takeaway(s). Keep it simple. At most, you can make 2 – 3 key, memorable messages. More than that and folks go to “blah-blah land”.  Think of all the presentations you saw this week. What messages do you remember?

If you have been asked to present the sales numbers – that does not mean read the sales numbers. Instead, tell us what the numbers mean. What does the team need to know about the numbers?  Is the trend line a concern? Is there a call to action? Are the new initiatives paying off? Data can be read – information must be presented. You’re the expert – please interpret the data for us, your audience.

In 10 words or less, write down each of your key messages. If you cannot articulate each message, you will not be able to present it no matter how many pretty slides. Spending time clarifying the message will help you craft memorable slides.

Timing is everything. Is it the right time, place, and audience for the message? Just because you want it to be the message, is it the message that will make the team stronger and more successful? You have been given the proverbial “bully pulpit”. Use it wisely, otherwise you might not get asked back. Or if you do, everyone will tune out. Sometimes the key message is to let folks know that “I have everything under control” so they can stop worrying.

Identify the messaging. Use supporting data. Present well. Easy, right?

Be intentional