Knowledgent Best Practices: Developing an Effective Presentation

So you’re tasked to build a presentation? You may be asking yourself:

  • What makes them good?
  • What makes them bad?
  • How can I use it to make my engagements successful?

Well, you’ve come to the right place! Many of us have been putting together PowerPoint decks for years, even decades in some cases. If you fall into that bucket, you’re probably thinking to yourself “I don’t need this tutorial, I’m a master at presenting! Besides, PowerPoints are just the packaging; they’re not actually all that meaningful.” We’re here to prove you wrong. It’s not just about the presentation or the deck that is presented, it’s the whole package.

How we present the work- the ideas, the intellectual property, the value we bring to our clients as consultants- is just as critical as the work itself. If we can’t communicate it, it may as well not exist. Further, if we communicate it poorly our work will be perceived as such. To drive this point home, it is helpful to think of a quote from Michael Lewis, “The book you wrote may not be the book people read.”

You may be asking yourself, “But what’s the difference between a PowerPoint and a presentation?”

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A PowerPoint should show the pieces of information that support a key message the presenter is delivering to their audience. In a presentation, the speaker and the slides come together to create something greater than the individual components themselves in order to effectively communicate information and ideas to the audience.

Audience engagement is key here. If we lose the audience, then we lose the whole point.

There are three key ingredients that can be used to maintain the audience’s engagement from start to finish:

  1. A strong presenter
    • The presenter has to know the material, be able to speak to it naturally without reading off of the slides, and, most importantly, know the story that will guide the audience through the information to get to the key message
  2. High quality content
  3. Impeccable packaging/delivery
    • Appearances matter
    • Even if you have the best idea in the world, or possess the key to saving or transforming a client’s business, many people will simply ignore it if they feel it is sloppy, unpleasant, or confusing

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All three of these components have to work together in order to accomplish the goal. If even one ingredient is missing, the recipe will be a disaster. Ever try baking cookies without flour? We’ll save you the trouble and let you know that it is not pleasant.

  • A great presenter with valuable content, and sloppy slides will be ignored
  • A great presenter with impeccable slides, and weak content is just smoke and mirrors
  • Perfectly designed slides with valuable content, and an unconvincing presenter proves to be unimpressive and ineffective

You may be thinking, “Okay, I get it, there is room for improvement. Can you be more specific about where our errors commonly occur?” Absolutely! Many of our decks tend to contain one or more of the following issues:

  • Content Overload – Putting paragraphs of text on a slide.
    • Who has time to read that? And if they are reading, they’re not listening
    • Too much text takes away from the presenter’s opportunity to share new info and ideas to the audience and eliminates the excitement factor
    • Instead, reduce the text and use supporting visuals; Images help people better retain the content and message!

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  • Lack of Consistency in Formatting /Content Layout
    • A lack of consistency takes away from the flow of a presentation, making us look unpolished and unprofessional
    • Inconsistency causes confusion and takes away from audience engagement

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  • Creativity in Packaging/Delivery
    • Every client is unique, and our presentation design should reflect that
    • We must think creatively about how to best adapt templates to the specific context
      • Make sure the slide construct supports the information and the story, not the other way around
    • How you structure a slide can drastically change the way people see the information and process the message. For instance:
      • Sizing – people naturally focus on the biggest thing on a slide
      • Left/Right and Up/down – we are trained to read from left to right and top to bottom. Position information and objects accordingly
      • Signaling colors – colors naturally trigger emotional reactions and have inherent meanings. For example: Green is good, red is bad.
      • Restricting and revealing – by presenting only the information we want the audience to see and then slowly revealing more, we can control their attention and keep them focused on the story flow

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  • Storytelling
    • The story is the backbone of the entire presentation, and you should have one in mind before you even open up PowerPoint
    • Example: telling a story through data
      • Data slides are not really about the data, they are about the meaning of the data
      • It is better to use just parts of the data that truthfully and accurately support your point
    • A key tip – don’t be afraid to cut! We often have an irrational aversion to removing content, even if it doesn’t fit with the story because we feel like we’re wasting good work
      • If it’s good but not relevant to your specific presentation’s purpose, remove it
      • Less is usually more!

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So, remember the key ingredients to an effective presentation include:

  • A strong presenter
  • High quality content
  • Impeccable packaging/delivery

And to avoid:

  • Content overload
  • Lack of consistency in formatting/content layout
  • Delivering a package that is not unique to the client

With the tools in hand, every Informationist should be able to go out and crush their next presentation!

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