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May 2010

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Kate Schwarz

I have taught presentation software workshops at the university level and non-profits for more than 10 years. The two most common problems I see that prevent great messages from becoming fantastic presentations are these:

1. Just because you can doesn't mean you should (animations, sound effects, odd color combinations, cheesy themes, etc).

2. Too many words/numbers, too few slides.

3. Poor spelling -- even with a spell checker (The new Office 2007 "context" checker helps a little.)


Beth Kanter

Thanks so much for sharing. Aside from techniques, what do you know
of external pressures - do they give enough time to rehearse the
presentation? Simply reuse someone else's slides or others that not
specifically related to the use of the software. B

Beth Kanter

From an email response:

Wow, my greatest fear is having people fill out their comment surveys that the presentation was uninteresting, confusing, poorly
organized/ill-prepared, even if they are relatively polite during it.

I still like to see things on paper, not just my computer screen, so I like to prepare my printing out my presentation and going through each slide just to get my head around it. Usually I'll make notes, see what needs editing and then use these to guide my polishing up the electronic presentation.

I would say my biggest challenge also is the technical side of things. I'm less afraid of the public speaking part (teaching every week has me pretty used to that, as well as being flexible depending on the needs of the audience), but there's nothing like the often inevitable technical glitches to throw a wrench into things. It's a challenge for me to demo tools on the computer while still keeping the flow of the presentation, especially tools particularly prone to bugginess and technical difficulties.

My advice for folks is to practice the demonstration part! Have a backup plan (i.e. slides, bookmarked links, other examples) if there's tech issues, and be sure to have a copy of your presentation in multiple places (thumb drive, web, laptop, etc.) just in case.

Oliver Mason

I have (almost) no bullet points on my slides, but photos instead, and I have a massive number of slides per presentation, but each with very little on. Any text is enlarged as much as possible while still fitting on the slide.

This forces me to talk freely rather than just read out bullet points, and it becomes more fast-paced due to the frequent changes of slides.

So far I only ever had positive feedback, so it seems to work alright.

I use Keynote on a Mac, but have a PDF version and sometimes even a PPT version as backup on a memory stick.

Gayle Thorsen

I'm always well-prepared with notes if I lose my place and as few and as high quality slides as I can muster--and yes, I practice. But the most important thing I do before I present is to GET EXCITED. Being nervous isn't the same thing as being excited, but you can use those nerves to rev yourself up. Nothing keeps people engaged as much as your own passion for what you're sharing with them. Part of that passion is letting them know you're human--so not everything has to go perfectly. Show them your humor, optimism, humility, but most of all your enthusiasm. One of your goals should be to get them as excited about the topic as you are.

Victoria Halfpenny

Know your material. I find that when I give a presentation that what helps the most is really to know what I am talking about so I spend a lot of time reading and re-reading articles, stats etc... and I have notes printed out in case I need to review something. Also, I try to maintain focus on the topic I am covering so I always have a slide that says "This presentation will specifically focus on ....."
Just some of my thoughts.

Jonathan Waddingham

I agree with Oliver - it's about having enough info on a slide to get people's interest, but not too much that it's distracting and people just read the slide and don't listen to you.

Once you have a point, or a few points to make on a particular topic, you only need a photo or a sentence on a slide and then you can riff off it if you know what you're talking about (like Victoria) and are excited by what you're talking about (like Gayle). Reading this, I really want to hear all these guys speak :D

Also - like the first comment, it helps to stay away from the custom animations in powerpoint, however tempting - always have to tell my Mum that 'less is more' in that respect...

Oh, and one last thing, I love looking for inspiration in other people's slideshows - and the presentations from the Carsonified events are usually brilliant, especially from their conferences on web design -

Ben Foster

Phenomenal post. I've been a huge fan of telling stories as a part of presentations for a while. I saw Peter Guber, a mega-successful Hollywood producer of Rain Man, The Color Purple, and others, present on story-telling and he offered the MAGIC acronym to help guide story-tellers.

From ->

Figuratively there is a MAGIC to how oral storytelling melts resistance, galvanizes others and can incite viral advocacy for your product, service or cause. Literally, I use it as an acronym to help business professionals learn the process I developed to sharpen their oral storytelling skills. It stands for Motivate your Audience to your Goal Interactively while surrendering Control. ~Peter Guber

I always try to match a great story to the message by asking myself these questions when practicing for a presentation:

  • Does your story give your audience an lesson they can use?
  • Is the ending of the story an excellent beginning to your presentation?
  • Would your audience tell the story to someone else?
  • Have you practiced telling the story to someone else?

This is a great site Beth, keep up the wonderful content!

Johanna Bates

These are all awesome strategies... thank you!
I am wondering, Beth, if you or your readers have any thoughts on how to run a good workshoppy-type session. Like, one where there's a short presentation set-up in the beginning, but then it's small group work followed by reporting back to the bigger group. I would love some tips or thoughts on how to make that model work well if anyone's got 'em.

Regina Mahone

Your advice, starting with a story, was helpful. Thank you for open sourcing your creative process!

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