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You're sitting on a hard chair, constantly shifting position, trying to get more comfortable. The speaker doesn't keep your mind off your discomfort, since he is reading precisely exactly what's on the slides. Unfortunately, you have to squint to read it, because he squeezed two pages of content in 10-point type on each slide. Sound familiar?

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To prevent this scenario, a recommended guideline is the 10/20/30 rule: 10 slides in 20 minutes with 30-point type.

PowerPoint has gotten a bad rap. It's not the program's fault that presentations fail to hold an audience's attention. It's the presenter who is at fault. Can't seem to rivet your audience? Check out the great tips below and you should be a presentation star in no time.

Snore... Snore... Ducking Presentations That Bore

Presentations have gotten out of control, as people use cookie-cutter templates with 10-point font and over 20 words a page. We believe presentations should sing, zing and ring audiences. We're working on marketing a new invention, so that means lots of presentations and explanations. What are the elements in a successful presentation that have worked for you or that you've seen in a presentation?

—Janet, Marketing Manager

Here are three tips from readers on how to make presentations sing:

  1. Try the George Carlin approach—humor.
  2. Think beyond PowerPoint.
  3. Show what's in it for them.

Try the George Carlin approach—humor

Jerry Bader, partner at MRPwebmedia, agrees that presentations should sing, zing and ring audiences:

In practical terms, that means your presentations have to speak to your audience in a human voice. Create a conversation, not a dry, dead-from-the-neck-up sales pitch full of features, specifications and "aren't we great?" stuff, but a signature voice that communicates how your new innovation will help solve your viewers' problems. Presentations are entertainment, and if you want to attract attention, generate interest, stimulate desire and action, then you should think George Carlin, not Harvard Business Review.

Another creative suggestion, from Dr. Debby, takes a different approach to dueling banjos:

Try PowerPoint vs. Post-It Notes! They need not be mutually exclusive. By being creative in PowerPoint, you can make it look like you have Post-It Notes superimposed on your PowerPoint slides—and through the use of animation tools make them look like they tear off once finished with them!

Think beyond PowerPoint

Your mode of communication depends on the type of information you're delivering and on the audience, advises Jessi LaCosta, communications coach with BlueRio Coaching:

Not everyone can get away with this, but if at all possible nix the PowerPoint. Try opting for interesting props and interactive material instead. You can start with a creative icebreaker. In fact, I had a group play a game of "operator," which I started; and I placed some very odd details into the storyline about why I was there and what they would learn. When it came time for the final person to present the story, we were all laughing. Furthermore, I gained valuable insight into the audience's state of mind. Then, I adjusted my delivery accordingly. (Obviously, something like this may work better in a casual atmosphere.)

You could also create a presentation like a magic show—invite members of the audience on stage to be your "personal assistant" and reveal your solutions to them in a dramatic and fun way. Use a personal connection where possible, engage your audience with anecdotes that are memorable and that most of your audience can relate to—of course, there is a fine line in overdoing this. At least for me, the ability to "humanize" the presentations by infusing humor has proved successful.

Sunil Shibad, creative director with The Flea Communication, recommends doing the opposite of what everyone else is doing:

If all your competitors are putting together fancy PowerPoint presentations, you should use Post-It Notes. If they quote some marketing guru, you should avoid quotes. Play a song. If they fire booming cannons, bring in a mime. The trick is to bring in some humanity, some soul, some heart. Be like a jazz musician and improvise.

Lisa Dreher, vice-president of marketing and business development at Logicalis, goes back to knowing the audience:

I have been in the position of having to give many presentations to sales representatives over the years. They are one of the more challenging groups to keep engaged. They typically pay attention about five minutes then they're off checking their Blackberry or stepping out of the room to answer a call. One of the best sales presentation methods I have used is making the presentation a game.

I have done Jeopardy and Millionaire shows as presentations to sales people. I usually start creating my questions based on the key messages I want to be sure to communicate. Then I tailor the questions to provide an opportunity to expand upon a topic. The answers to the questions provide a starting place for commentary. Audience participation keeps the audience engaged and enhances learning. This method is only effective with certain audiences, but if you have the right audience, you will get raves on this method. It makes learning fun and keeps a tough-to-please audience in the room.

Too daring? You can always try a softer approach of these suggestions. Start small and see how it works out. Also, we have just finished reading a book that provides inspired suggestions for punching up presentations from the folks behind Bullfighter.

Show what's in it for them

Good ol' reliable benefits still make a difference. If you're selling a pencil, people will be more interested in knowing that it leads to less cramps than the fact it's made of such-n-such material. Allan G. Lie, creative director, explains the benefits approach:

First of all, remember that the audience doesn't care about you. Not even a little bit. Your presentation has to immediately tell what the benefit will be to them or their organization. Describe the results first, and then tell them how you'll get them there. If you're just hoping the product will be a benefit for them once you explain its features, you haven't done your homework. And skip all the technical language unless your audience completely understands it. You don't need to impress them with your credentials... you need to communicate with them—and that means talking the way they talk, about the things they talk about.

A technique that could work well with a new invention is to open by listing all the things your potential client would like to have, but can't get. Then make a statement like "Imagine one product that could take care of it all!" Follow up by going through the list one item at a time and demonstrate that your product will deliver. Don't worry about the zing, sing and ring. If you're passionate about your product, your audience won't be able to keep themselves from getting excited as well. If you're not confident and excited about what you're presenting, find someone who is. It doesn't matter if you have video clips, a custom-written song, a dancing bear or fireworks going off in the boardroom—gimmicks are entertaining, but they don't sell.

A reader recommends using fewer words and provides excellent insight:

Products or services in action are the best proposition. Your presentations should show moving video and audio to supplement the dry stuff. Impact is king. If you are presenting a new idea and a new invention...the first two questions a prospect will ask you is (1) How much will this cost me? and (2) What will I have to do to benefit? They are more interested in how it will impact them rather than the product benefits.

Within the team of prospects that you present to...your proponents will be lukewarm, but your detractors will be the ones that tend to lose the most with the implementation of your new invention. In other words, who you present to is more critical than what. To circumvent that—show in your presentation how your invention will make life better for everyone. Show them a sample and how to use it. Show a mock or a display model if possible. Also, I find that if you have two speakers, it breaks up the monotony. As always, do a dry run for everything to make sure it works before D-day.

Dr. Debby reminds us to consider the basics:

In addition to making your text legible, make your graphics easy to see. Use few images per slide (KISS: Keep it Simple, Sweetie!), make them large—especially charts and graphs with numbers, and make them contrast highly with the background. By the way, even if you use materials from hard copy that incorporate small text, you can always find a way to increase their size in PowerPoint.

It's not easy creating a presentation these days. We have so many media choices to use in presentations that it can be overwhelming. Also, our audience has shorter attention spans with gadgets like cell phones and Blackberries distracting them. Readers' creative suggestions should help you hit a homerun on your next presentation.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Hank Stroll (Hank@InternetVIZ.com) is publisher at InternetVIZ, a custom publisher of 24 B2B e-newsletters reaching 490,000 business executives.