According to George Bernard Shaw, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place!”
Have you ever sat through an entire presentation, only to find that at the very end you struggle to remember the presenter’s main points or even worse, failed to understand what they expected of you? Both of these frightening thoughts are two of my pet hates and the reasons that I go to great lengths in planning my presentations.
For now, without addressing the delivery aspects of a presentation, all good presentations require presenters to undertake the following four steps…
- Research the topic in detail and the audience’s level of knowledge of it
- Decide on the key content elements to communicate the required message
- Design your presentation for impact
- Building your presentation
Step #1 – Research the topic and the audience’s knowledge level of it
All presentations should begin with careful research and planning. A number of key questions can be used to help you determine the type and amount of information that you will need.
- What is the main purpose of the presentation? (and desired outcome)
- How much time has been allocated to the presentation?
- When will the presentation take place?
- How familiar is audience with the topic being presented?
- What is their main interest in the topic? What is their associated authority level with the topic?
- To what level is the presentation being pitched? Detailed vs. High Level for executives?
- Is there a subject matter expert within your organisation that can help you source content?
- How prepared will the audience be for the content that you are presenting? Will they be ‘Ready’ to receive the message? Will they be ‘Apathetic’? or will they be ‘Resistant’?
- Are there any cultural norms to consider? Will the audience expect a copy of the slides before the presentation? Will an extensive ‘backup’ section of supporting information be expected?
- How will the presentation be delivered? In-person or virtually?
- Where will the presentation take place?
Answering these questions will help you understand more about the type of information that your audience is expecting and the detail to which it needs to be pitched at. Now you can set about gathering your content!
Step #2 – Decide on the key content elements to communicate the required message
Now that you have gathered all the appropriate content and supporting data points for your presentation. It is time to narrow down its scope (cutting irrelevant content) so that it addresses only the main areas of interest. This is beneficial because it helps to categorise and sort content into related chunks that you will use to build a logically flowing presentation from introduction through to close/next steps or Q&A. Here are some pointers to help you organise your content…
- Define a suitable introduction with a compelling ‘hook’ such as a relevant statement, quote or story.
- Organise the content into chunks so that there is a logical flow between sections, use transitions slides if appropriate. It will be easier to start off with 3 sections in the beginning (Introduction, Body, Conclusion). The body section can be elaborated on later if needed.
- Create a clear agenda slide. This allows you to communicate early on in the presentation what information will be covered and whether questions will be taken throughout or at the end of the presentation.
- Develop a strong closing slide that recaps your main points and clearly communicates your ask of the audience (if there is an ask).
Step #3 – Design your presentation for impact
Before you build your slides in PowerPoint, Keynote or Prezi*, it is a common best practice and recommendation that you first sketch your slides on paper. This allows to visualise the layout and flow of the presentation before you start the build, thus helping you to avoid unnecessary changes and edits later on.
(*if you are planning on using Prezi for your presentation, ensure that you obtain corporate infosec approval before putting sensitive corporate information on an external application)
- Decide on a suitable theme (colours, fonts, layout structure). Organisations with a solid marketing department often possess a catalogue of brand compliant templates with embedded themes that employees can pull from for internal and external facing presentations.
- Decide on appropriate titles for each slide, ensuring that they are not too long.
- Structure the content of each slide so that the message is conveyed with the least amount of content possible. Overly busy slides tend to be confusing and counter productive to the delivery of the message.
Step #4 – Build your presentation
Equipped with your sketches, you are now ready to build your slides. Each audience will have unique needs so make sure that you cater to what’s appropriate.
- Use relevant images to support the message. Images also help to break up the content and keep the audience engaged. DO NOT over use images and other media, as this will distract the audience from the message.
- Only use animation if it serves to enhance the flow and delivery of the message. When delivering presentations virtually (i.e. through WebEx or GoToMeeting), beware of animations as these may loose their impact due to slow internet connections. Always build with the audience experience in mind.
Here are some questions to help you gauge the quality of your built presentation…
- Are there too many slides for the allotted time of the presentation?
- Was the introduction clear and descriptive to the purpose and content of the presentation?
- Was the selected template (theme, colour, font, imagery) appropriate to the message?
- Does the presentation flow logically and seamlessly?
- Are there any slides that can be removed from the body and placed in the backup?
- Does the conclusion effectively round up the presentation? Recapping the main points and clearly communicating the next steps or asks of the audience?
Following these four simple steps will help you to create an impactful presentation that will leave your audience informed with the right information that they will be ready and inspired to take action on the ‘ask’ (or next steps) outlined in your conclusion slides.