PowerPoint is so ubiquitous that many people take it for granted. And, because it's so simple, many don't take the time to truly get the most out of it.
Even worse, too many think "PowerPoint" and "presentation" are synonymous, believing that all it takes to give a great presentation is a slick set of slides.
But great presentations aren't the result of chance, and they are definitely not one-size-fits-all. Even if you are an expert presenter, chances are you can improve a few things in your next presentation that will help sway the audience.
Best of all, most of those common mistakes are easy to fix, and fixing them pays off with huge dividends.
So, let's run through four of the biggest mistakes people make when creating a PowerPoint presentation, and some approaches for overcoming them.
Mistake No. 1: You aren't thinking about your audience
If you take only one thing away from this article, it should be this first point. No matter how straightforward you think your presentation is, it always benefits from an adjustment so that it speaks to the unique wants and interests of your specific audience.
Consider the following to get a sense of why this matters:
- Your viewers will have various levels of knowledge about you and your product: A busy, C-suite audience will want to hear different things than a product manager.
- The audience may have heard three other pitches for the same service this week.
- A small group may benefit from more interaction, whereas a large group may benefit from a more presenter-led style.
- Some people watching may have heard your pitch already.
In each of those scenarios, you would want to tailor the length, level of detail, and overall approach to match the specific audience. If you were to present the same thing to all of them, you would have little success.
Mistake No. 2: You aren't telling a story
If you do any research into the art of creating better presentations, you'll almost certainly come across the topic of storytelling. Unfortunately, most of the articles you'll read are frustratingly vague on what that is. As a consequence, too many people assume it's a gimmick and don't give storytelling the attention it deserves.
Presentation storytelling can mean a lot of things, but in its most basic form, it simply means putting your ideas into context.
There are several ways to do that. First, you can start by writing headlines that build to a larger point. That will help take your audience on a journey from the start to the end of your presentation, which is all storytelling really is!
Another effective way to tell a story in a presentation is to focus on benefits rather than features. If you want members of your audience to know the details of your product, give them a fact sheet. If you want them to understand how their lives (or business) will improve as a result of choosing you, talk about benefits. By showing how things will improve (or "benefit" them), you're describing a change over time, which is the core of what a story is.
The great thing about stories is that they are customizable. You can tweak the way you frame benefits, or the way you guide your audience from start to finish, based on the unique needs and interests of that audience.
Mistake No. 3: You aren't considering format
Too often, people treat PowerPoint presentations as all-purpose documents that function as in-person presentations, leave-behinds, and sometimes even separate pieces of marketing collateral. But the truth is, the PowerPoint you share in person should be different from the one you share online, and both should be different from the one you leave behind as a printout or PDF.
Let's take a look at what's different about each style of PowerPoint, and how you can design your slides (and presentation) to best suit each format.
When you think of PowerPoint presentations, chances are an in-person presentation is what you picture. People gathered around a table, slides on a screen, a speaker commanding the attention of every eye in the room. For persuading an audience, nothing beats an in-person presentation.
When making slides for an in-person presentation, your content should be minimal and focused.
The reason for that is too much information on a slide defeats the purpose of presenting in person. The value of an in-person presentation is the personal connection you can make with your audience, so when you're in the room, you want people focused on what you are saying, not shifting their attention to read full sentences on a slide. That's because any time that your viewers are reading what's on your slide, they aren't paying attention to you.
So, use the content on your slides to reinforce your story (more on that later), and deliver the main point yourself.
We've all become familiar with virtual presentations over the last few years. And if you've given even one of them, you've probably noticed that it's a little different from standing in front of a room and speaking.
In a digital presentation, you have to work harder to keep your audience engaged. That means using fewer words and distracting graphics on slides. It also means that you may want to consider changing the length of your presentation to avoid viewers' checking their email or online shopping when they should be listening to you.
Although technological challenges are a big concern for in-person presentations, those challenges are magnified when you're presenting online. Connection speeds can vary, animations can appear choppy, images can be pixelated, audio can cut in and out. Each of those scenarios can change from minute to minute, and they have a negative impact on the vibe of your presentation.
So, when designing a PowerPoint for a digital presentation, you should stick to the best-practices of simplifying your design, stripping out any extraneous elements, and tightening up your overall timing.
Many (if not most) times, you'll want to send over a version of your PowerPoint for the audience to review or share with people who didn't attend your presentation. It might seem easy to send out the same document you presented, but this is where the value of considering your audience comes into play.
When watching a leave-behind presentation, readers have time to focus on each slide and go through (and back over) your presentation in detail. And without you in the room to deliver the big ideas, they'll need additional context and explanation. That means if you want to make your case clear and compelling, you'll need to add information that the in-person version of your presentation left out. This is where you can start writing in full sentences rather than giving brief bullet points or including additional slides.
The other big difference between in-person and leave-behind presentations is design. Animations, video/gif, even colors will all render differently (if at all) on the printed page or as a flat PDF. So, if you want readers to have the best experience, you'll need to create a flattened version of your presentation—one that is designed with the specific considerations of the reading format in mind.
However, that isn't as simple as just exporting your current PowerPoint. Many graphics created in PowerPoint don't transfer well to a different format.
The solution to this problem is actually the final big mistake that people make in PowerPoint...
Mistake No. 4: You aren't testing your presentation
It's the day of your big presentation, and you're banging out the last few slides to fit in all the feedback from your team. You give it a once over, smile that it's all looking good, then share out the final file.
And then the meeting starts. There's a typo on Slide 2. The wording on Slide 6 is kind of awkward when you say it out loud. Are the numbers in that chart even right? Wait, why does that animation pause halfway through?
If you're like us, most (if not all) of that sounds familiar, because it's happened at least once before. But the good news is, there's an easy solution: practice.
Many people seem to think that because they've given lots of presentations in the past, or because they know their subject well, they don't need to practice their presentation before giving it. But in our experience, there is never a time when you won't benefit from taking a few minutes to run through your work. And if it's more than a few minutes, even better.
From better writing to sharper design to fewer mistakes, there are so many reasons to take the time to practice your presentation, and no reasons not to.
* * *
If you've seen a few of the mistakes from this article in your own presentations, don't worry! Even experts are likely to benefit from considering each of them before giving their next presentation. If you keep them in mind before you start each new presentation, you'll find that the little bit of extra time you spend will lead to a lot of great results.
More Resources on Great Presentations
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