Wherever you are in your professional career (or schooling), it’s safe to assume you’ve had the pleasure of sitting through a presentation or two. Chances are, these presentations have fallen flat in at least one way or another: too many slides, not engaging, psychedelic concept.
Whatever it may have been, the fact is our average attention span is roughly eight seconds — that’s one second less than a goldfish. Consequently, it’s critical to get your message across quickly and efficiently. Next time you find yourself in front of an audience, make sure to combat these four presentation pitfalls:
Your PowerPoint is not your presentation
All too often I find myself reminding presenters of this fact when I receive their handiwork to edit. Nothing is worse — or more insulting — than staring at the back of someone’s head while they read a presentation to their audience. Combat this by designing your PowerPoint as an outline (10 to 20 slides) of your discussion and remember the Boy Scout motto: Be Prepared!
Know your topic inside and out, be ready for questions, make sure hardware is functioning and always remember that a PowerPoint is merely a tool to help guide the presentation — not the presentation itself.
Don’t be a presentation robot — or encyclopedia
Unless you find yourself in front of a bunch of computers, find a way to engage your audience and insert a certain humanistic quality to your presentation. Failing to do this is a surefire way to get your audience to check out and fail to connect to your message on an emotional level.
What if your presentation topic is as cerebral as giving the history behind the French fur trade and exploration of the Great Lakes in 1723? Easy. Open your presentation with a story or analogy the audience could potentially relate to. Beginning in this manner establishes the emotional nail you need to drive your overall message home. Additionally, it’s unlikely an audience member would be able to recite every fact and figure discussed, but what they will be able to take away is how your presentation as a whole made them feel. (Click here to Tweet this thought.)
Don’t go overboard with the concept — K.I.S.S.
Keep it simple… silly! The last thing you want your audience to experience when flipping through your presentation slides is a migraine brought on by trippy transitions, rainbow color palettes and immature font choices.
A few points that will help in the overall design of your presentation:
- Trim your color palette to three or four colors utilizing tools like ColourLovers and Kuler.
- Be conscious of readability. Complementary colors (e.g. red background, green type) aren’t so complementary when partnered on slides.
- Stick to one, maybe two, slide transitions for the entire presentation. Preferably one of the simpler options like push or uncover.
- Yes, it’s exciting to see animations come to fruition. But they can be distracting to an audience, especially if they end up lagging. Keep animations ridiculously simple.
- Unless you have extensive experience in typography, shy away from using decorative fonts downloaded from the Internet. This presents not only readability issues, but potentially compatibility issues in the event the presentation needs to be sent somewhere besides your computer. Typically, sans-serif fonts like Arial or Century Gothic work best for digital projects and are considered “browser-safe fonts.”
- Nothing is worse than cheesy graphics. Get creative with your imagery, but only if it makes sense in the context of the slide it’s living on. Check out Stock Free Images for royalty-free images you can use in your presentation.
- Establish a hierarchy and stick to it! If you use Verdana for one headline, use it for all subsequent headlines as well. People don’t just expect consistency; they crave it, too.
- Don’t design a slide at a time. Begin by outlining your entire presentation from start to finish. This will help trim unnecessary slides and also create continuity to your presentation.
- Research! Sometimes a “blank canvas” can be very daunting. Check out SlideShare.net for inspiration.
Don’t think PowerPoint is the only answer
Although PowerPoint is extremely popular and user-friendly, there are countless other creative ways to present information beyond the Microsoft platform. Check out some of these other tools the next time you’re developing your presentation strategy:
- Keynote – This is Apple’s version of PowerPoint and, in my opinion, is even more user-friendly than its counterpart. While staunch Microsoft supporters may not agree, Keynote offers significant upgrades in the ways of graphics, templates, transitions and overall usability. Be sure to research the pros and cons of each before diving in.
- Prezi – This is one of the more unique presentation platforms I’ve seen in a while. With Prezi, you have the ability to create 3D interactive presentations that can live on or offline. Although it may not be as user-friendly as PowerPoint or Keynote, I think it warrants consideration if you’re willing to take the time to figure it out.
- Google Presentations – Just like most Google platforms, Google presentations is fairly user-friendly and aesthetically pleasing. However, it seems to lack some of the customization abilities other platforms offer.
- Other noteworthy platforms to check out are SlideRocket and Haiku Deck.
By avoiding the above presentation pitfalls, not only will you better captivate your audience’s attention, but your credibility as an expert on your topic will be realized.