A few years ago, I attended a presentation by a smart, experienced professional whose goal was to provide an informative overview of his area of expertise to his colleagues. Unfortunately, he did not succeed in communicating his message effectively to the audience. How he prepared and delivered his PowerPoint slides interfered with his ability to share information with the audience.
What did he do wrong? First of all, the slides were crowded and hard to read. Also, instead of making eye contact with the audience, he spoke to the slides on the screen or buried his eyes in his notes, which he read from almost verbatim. Finally, he stood in front of the projector light so we could see his silhouette against the screen instead of the words on his slides.
This was not the first presentation he had ever delivered. His mistakes had been made permanent by years of practice, which shows that practice doesn't make perfect, it makes permanent – so you have to practice the right things in the right way in order to be effective.
Here are 7 tips to use when you are preparing and delivering slides, whether you're using PowerPoint or Apple's Keynote presentation software (and several of them apply even if you're not using slides).
- Speak to the audience, not to the screen; turn your body so you face the audience.
- If you need to look at your slides to help you stay on track, position your laptop as a "confidence monitor" so you can see the slides on your laptop screen while still facing the audience.
- Stand to the side of the screen so you don't block it. And use a remote control so you can advance your slides without having to be tied to the laptop.
- Make sure your slides are legible from the back of the room. Avoid crowding your slides with too many words or images and make sure the font size is large enough. Also be sure that there is enough contrast so that the font color can be easily seen against the slide background. If you find yourself saying to the audience, "I know you can't read this," you're in trouble. And have each slide focused on a message, rather than just a data dump of everything you know about the topic.
- Be mindful about where your eyes are looking and be sure to make eye contact with all sections of the audience.
- Don't write out your entire presentation and read it word for word; you will bore the audience. If you try to memorize every word, you will be stuck in your head, worried about forgetting a word, instead of focused on the audience. And if you do forget a word, it will be difficult to find it amid the pages of your memorized script.
- To use notes effectively, create a one-page outline of key phrases in large font so you can quickly glance at it and find your place. Tape or staple it to heavy cardstock paper so you can easily hold it with one hand or keep it on the lectern. The heavy paper will not flap around as you handle it and you will be less likely to fold and crumple it if you're nervous. And if you place it on a lectern, it's less likely to blow away.
The next time you have to present using slides, refer to these tips. Effective slide creation and delivery can support your message and help you successfully communicate to the audience.
And if you're looking for an insightful book on the topic, check out Presentation Zen, a fabulous book on presentation creation and design by Garr Reynolds.