As a woman, it can be particularly challenging to make yourself heard within an organization. Females can sometimes be less assertive than men, and may not speak up as much in meetings or other group settings. This is why presentations – whether it’s a weekly work-in-progress meeting, a monthly sales report or a keynote speech at a conference – are so important. They give you the chance to demonstrate your authority, confidence and professionalism to your colleagues, thereby confirming your reputation as a thought leader within your business. Unfortunately, presentations are for many women a handicap rather than an asset – and PowerPoint slides could be part of the problem.

There are several reasons why you tend to rely on PowerPoint, but many organisations are moving away from it in their meetings so you need to move with the times. With this being said, let’s bust the 5 myths about relying on PowerPoint in your presentations, and show you how to get everyone sitting up and paying attention.

Myth no. 1: ‘PowerPoint helps me structure my presentation’

When preparing for a presentation, many people take a back-to-front approach, diving straight into PowerPoint and putting all of their content onto slides first, and worrying about the structure later. ‘Having all the content in front of me helps me organise my thoughts better,’ you might tell yourself. But this approach can lead to presentations that meander around the core message, and can leave the audience feeling unconvinced or, even worse, confused. There are, in fact, several steps you should take before you even turn on your computer, to make sure your presentation is as powerful as possible.

The very first thing to consider is your audience: who are they? And what are their pain points? It’s important to do your research – if you’re presenting to a potential client, you might check out their website and LinkedIn page; if you’re presenting at a conference, you might ask about the typical demographic of the attendees.

Once you have a good idea of who you’re talking to, the next question to ask yourself is, ‘What is my core message?’ What do you want your audience to do or think as a result of your presentation? You should be able to summarise this in a single sentence – this then becomes the overarching theme of your presentation.

Once you know your audience and you’ve got your overarching theme, only then can you begin to think about your structure. But don’t reach for that power button just yet – I recommend good old-fashioned pen and paper for this step. Think back to your audience’s pain points and try to address these. Ask yourself, ‘Why should they care about what I’m talking about? Why is what I’m talking about important to them?’ Consider what information your audience needs to be persuaded to your point of view, and try to condense this into two or three key points if possible – no more than five. Your audience may struggle to retain more than 5 key points after your presentation.

Then consider what information you have to support your key points. This may be facts, statistics, examples, analogies or recent stories – try to relate to your audience here, as this will make your message resonate more.

A useful way to organize your structure is using a logic tree, which forces you to stay on-message.

Once you’ve decided on the best structure, you can then think about how many PowerPoint slides you might need to make your case effectively – or whether you need them at all!

Myth no. 2: ‘The more information I fit onto my slides, the more knowledgeable I will appear’

Trying to fit as much information as possible into a presentation, or ‘content cramming’, is a very common mistake. You may think it makes you look like more of an authority on the subject at hand, or that you’re ‘covering your bases’ by addressing as many points as possible. But, the reality is, people’s mental capacity is limited, and all that content cramming achieves is cognitive overload, thereby diluting your message and influence.

Content cramming: a big no-no

As The Colin James Method®’s co-founder and facilitator, I’ve seen it all and honestly, I believe content cramming is the refuge of the insecure. There is a constant stream of information bombarding your audience every day, they don’t need more… they want you to help them create meaning from the information and work out how to apply it to make a difference in their world.

Knowing what to leave out is just as important as knowing what to include, and this is where knowing your audience comes in. When considering whether to include something, ask yourself, ‘Does my audience care about this?’ If the answer is ‘No’, then get rid of it. This helps you to present relevant and useful insights to them. It’s also a massive confidence booster to know that you’ve got information that will help people to avoid a pitfall or gain some advantage.

Myth no. 3: ‘PowerPoint slides help me remember what to say’

You have likely heard the phrase ‘Death by PowerPoint’, and treating your PowerPoint as a script is a sure-fire way to a slow and painful demise for you and your audience.

You may think that reading from your slides is a good way to reinforce information; this, however, has the effect of distancing your audience rather than engaging them. You may also feel like it is a good way to make sure you don’t miss anything important, but think about this: if you can’t remember your presentation, and you’re the one who is familiar with the subject, how can you expect your audience to?

Breaking down your presentation into bite-sized chunks will not only help you stay on point and communicate your core message with confidence, but it will also help your audience digest what you have to say.

Myth no. 4: ‘PowerPoint slides will distract people from my less-than-stellar presentation skills’

If you’re not feeling super confident, it can be tempting to hide behind your PowerPoint slides, so to speak. But your delivery will heavily influence how your presentation will be received. If you don’t appear confident, people will assume you are not confident about your message and will be less likely to be persuaded by what you have to say. And all the flashy graphic effects in the world aren’t enough to mask a poor delivery.

The only solution? Learn the skills of a good presenter and practise, practise, practise.

Once you’ve got your structure down pat, practise delivering your presentation out loud. Avoid trying to write out a speech word for word, which can make you sound unnatural and stilted; instead, use your key points as prompts and imagine trying to speak to your audience directly. You’ll find after a few dry runs that you’ll start to sound knowledgeable and unscripted.

While you’re practising, think about your voice: your pace should be measured, your pitch should be low and calm, and you want to be able to project your voice to the back of the room. Think about your body language too: try to make eye contact with everyone in the room at some point, use the available space to keep up energy and attention, and use hand gestures to visualise your points.

Myth no. 5: ‘Presenting information visually on PowerPoint slides helps with audience retention’

This is not necessarily a ‘myth’, but it’s not the gospel truth either. PowerPoint can be a great tool for presenting visual information – but it may not be the best one for your particular presentation.

When you’re considering the point you’re trying to make, try to think outside the PowerPoint box. Is it best illustrated by drawing a diagram on a flipchart or whiteboard? Could you use a prop? Could you ask the audience to participate in an exercise or discussion? Being creative with how you communicate can have a marked effect on audience engagement and retention.

If you do want to use slides, we find that they work best if they support your verbal presentation with evocative images, numerical graphs and tables, or video clips.

Try it for yourself!

As Sheryl Sandberg writes in Lean In: “Feeling confident – or pretending that you feel confident – is necessary to reach for opportunities. It’s a cliché, but opportunities are rarely offered; they’re seized.” So take these tips, and seize the opportunity to make a lasting impression at your next presentation. You could even challenge yourself to present without the crutch of PowerPoint slides – you might be surprised by the results!


Erica Bagshaw is an entrepreneur, Executive Coach and Co-Founder of The Colin James Method® and Inner Profit Pty Ltd a vibrant leadership development company in Australia. She has spent the majority of her career growing and developing close client partnerships. She loves sharing her expertise on the all things communication.


There are 300 million PowerPoint users in the world and it’s estimated that there are a million presentations happening right now. But most of them are dull or even bad. It’s bizarre and it can really hurt your career.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Once you have got to the the core of your talk–the message  you want the audience to take away–then, and only then, turn to your slide software. Here are two key tips to help you stand out from the crowd.

Think billboard, NOT document

Powerpoint Surgery jpegs for article.008

This is probably the most important thing I can pass on.

People simply try to do too many things with their slides. Fundamentally, slides are for the audience, not for the speaker. Although it’s tempting, they should not be our crutch. Once we understand that they are for our audience, we design them in a bigger and bolder way. Feel free to make a word document to hand out after your talk if you like (although no-one ever reads those documents, in my experience), but don’t make your slides in that way. Build them for the bored bloke in row 33. Nancy Duarte helpfully compared slides to billboards in her book Slide:ology. Imagine you are passing your slides at 50mph on a major road. Could you read them as you drive past? If you can’t they are too complicated and wordy. It’s a simple but effective test for us.

Design your slides, and if appropriate, write some handout notes. But keep in mind that they are two very separate things. If you’re going to produce a presentation slide deck, then do just that–don’t be tempted to make it into a hand-out with a slightly larger font.

Bullets kill

Bullets don’t just kill people, they kill presentations too. Sometimes when I see speakers present a slide with bullet points you can almost feel the people in the room deflate, they may not groan out loud, but they are inside. I’ve heard it said to limit the words on a slide to 33. I’d say 3-12! If you have more than that, then either rephrase, condense or add another slide. Be tough on bullet boredom and the causes of bullet boredom.

Give these simple tips a try this week, and watch your presentations get better and better. Tell great stories, be yourself, and let your slides be your backdrop–not your auto-cue.

Lee Jackson

This article is an exert from Lee’s book “PowerPoint Surgery: How to create presentation slides that make your message stick.” available from Amazon. Lee Jackson is a motivational speaker, powerpoint surgeon, presentation coach and the author of the 2013 book ‘Powerpoint Surgery’. He’s been speaking up front for more than twenty years in many challenging situations. As well as speaking himself, he loves helping other people to speak well too. He is a fellow of the Professional Speaking Association (PSA) and also the president of the PSA Yorkshire region. He supports the New York Knicks, is a former youth worker and was once an award winning DJ. You can get in touch with him here: via leejackson.biz or twitter @leejackson


Dear Miss Techie,
I need to do a slideshow presentation to a client that looks professional. Do you have any tips?
Thanks,
All Slideshow’d Out

Giving presentations can be a daunting task. Especially when you want to make a good impression and not bore your audience to death. Although there is nothing that beats preparation, practice and more practice, here are a few tips that will help make your presentation more engaging and look professional.

Text

  • The fewer words you have, the better
    •  There is no hard and fast rule, but try to have no more than 10 words on each slide
    • If you’re feeling adventurous, limit yourself to maximum 3 world per slide
  • Large font is good – people at the back of the room should be able to read it
    • If you can’t fit your words in, chances are you have too many words
  • DO NOT READ FROM YOUR SLIDES
    • Your audience can read – prepare a separate document and provide it as a handout if you have a lot of text/information
    • You should be delivering the content, not your slides. In fact, your slide should almost be meaningless without you
    • You should only have a few words there anyway (see first point)
  • Limit the number of fonts used (1 is a good number, 2-3 if you really need to)
  • Choose fonts to suit the presentation (comic sans is usually a bad choice)
  • Note: If you’re going to be presenting on a different machine, always have the font files ready to install on the presentation machine

Resources

Images

  • Using large, good quality images can make a huge difference to your presentation
  • Make your images the primary focus of your slides
  • Finding the right image to portray the idea you want to express is not an easy task, but it’s worth it!
  • Tip: For your summary slide, use the same images that were used to convey the main points earlier in your talk (eg. if you had 4 ideas, place an image in each quadrant). It’s a nice way to tie everything back together

Where to find images?

Positioning/Animations

  • Place important content on the top half of the slides – that way they’ll be visible from the back of the room
  • Unless it’s really really effective, leave out the effects/animations – they generally just distract the audience
  • Don’t stand behind a lectern/laptop – you are talking to the audience, not to the laptop
    • Try to ask for (or invest in) a presentation clicker (bluetooth mouse, though bulky will do the job!) so you can move around
    • Standing out in the open may be scary, but it will let you make more eye contact and help engage with the audience
    • Practice, practice, practice – you shouldn’t need to use notes. The images on the slides should be enough to remind you want you need to say

Colour/Contrast

  • Remember that lighting might not be the best, so pick colours that have good contrast and are easy to read
  • Don’t use too many colours, three main colours is a good number to stick with
  • If you’re not restricted to company colours, have a look at Kuler. It is a great treasure trove of nice harmonious colours.

I will guarantee you that doing a presentation where there are close to no words and only images on slides is nerve racking. However, it will definitely change the way you prepare your presentations :)

If you are looking for more tips, here are a couple of great places to look at:

Good luck with it, and have fun!

Miss Techie

Featured image credit

Miss Techie, aka Peggy Kuo, is a programmer who is currently developing a mobile game. She’s also presented at Ignite Sydney. You can see what she’s up to at her website.