Hardly the most loved job in the office, making a compelling presentation can often feel like an uphill race against that looming deadline and your own sanity. What's more, it's often the case that after hours of filling your presentation with amazing content you'll sit back to admire your hard work when suddenly it hits you – this looks bloody horrible. Certainly not the inspiring feeling you want before actually presenting the thing.
Fortunately, there are a few really easy (often overlooked) ways to turn that mess of slides into a presentation-dream.
Quick note: This isn't meant as a presentation masterclass, instead it's quick-fixes to take that PowerPoint that's been bugging you all week, or that pitch document you need to finish in the next hour, and effortlessly bring it up to scratch so you can present with confidence. So, let's get into it.
1. Consider the context
Context is everything, and your presentation will typically fall into one of two categories:
- Someone using the slides to present in front of others. Or...
- The presentation being viewed separately without someone explaining the content (Slideshare would be a good example of this).
If you're doing the first option, then don't feel like you need to stack lines and lines of text onto each slide. The presenter should be the hero of the show, with the slides a supporting element to help elevate the whole thing. Keep a holistic picture of the final presentation in mind and make sure the content you do have is appropriate for the context. Seth Godin says there should be no more than six words on a slide – EVER. And while we all know this can sometimes be difficult, it does bring us neatly onto our next point…
2. Less is more
There's nothing worse than a presenter clicking to the next slide and you being faced with a screen full of text. Who's seriously going to read that? Either the audience will be too busy reading your slides that they won't hear a word you say, or they'll ignore the slide all together to focus on you, or even worse (and most likely) – they'll try and do both and end up taking in nothing at all.
Make slides that reinforce your words, not repeat them. Not only will this help cut down on the worst PowerPoint faux pas (reading the exact same words that are on the slide) but it will actually help the audience retain the information better. To put it plainly, the slide should sum up what you're trying to say without any effort. And even if you're not there to present the information, using clear concise points, and avoiding an info-dump, will give the audience a much better chance of understanding what you're trying to get across and remembering what you've said long after it's over.
3. Have a goal
People rarely give a presentation for no reason at all (although I'm sure we've all sat through a couple that felt that way!), and that's the point: presentations should always have a purpose. Have a clear goal in mind and when reviewing each slide ask yourself "how is this supporting the goal of the presentation?" If the answer is "it's not", then you could probably do with removing it. Make sure the content you're presenting is relevant to the overall goal you want to achieve. This will help the audience retain the all-important information and better understand what it is you're trying to say.
What's more, make sure the audience is clear on what your objective is right from the start. People remember information more accurately when it is consumed early on and at the end of a sequence, so bookend the body of your presentation with an engaging introduction and always sum up the key takeaways at the end.
While it's certainly true that content is king, in regards to your presentations... looking good certainly never hurt. And while there's plenty of tools, tutorials and companies out there ready to give you a helping hand, making an amazing looking slideshow really doesn't need to be that complicated. Yes, getting a designer to make a sparkly new presentation is a sure-fire way to impress but, fortunately, you don't always need to have a keen eye for design to make a set of slides look great.
Forget Canva, forget Photoshop, all you need to do is this... make the pages consistent. Here are three simple rules that will start getting your slides looking sharper in no time:
- Pick one or two fonts and don't deviate from them.
- Try to use no more than three colours.
- Make three master slides: A title, a sub-header, and a default 'body' slide, and stick with them.
It sounds obvious, but by using master slides you can ensure your content stays in the same place on each slide. One of the BIG problems most people are unaware of is that if your content is jumping around all over the page, your audience will have to work harder to process the information. People like consistency, so keep your titles in the same place and keep things like text sizes as consistent as possible.
5. Don't use silly transitions
We don’t need to say much here. Just… don't.
And that's it! We hope this helps lessen the headache of putting your next presentation together. But if you do still find yourself pulling your hair out screaming at the screen "WHY WON'T IT JUST WORK?!?!" then remember... Contagion's always on hand to help.