When it comes to any activity, careful planning can really pay off and this very much applies to presentation writing. These days, the majority of presentations are created in MS PowerPoint software or a similar software program. However, a lot of these are done without much care, focus, or thought to the end game.
This approach lacks planning and/or forward thinking. Remember, the main purpose of presentation slides is about expanding and illustrating what a presenter intends to say. Therefore, it is important the presenter knows what it is they want to say and then work out the best way to convey this in visual form. Unless you have a lot of expertise in the art of improvisation, it is best to write down or create an outline of your intended presentation before attempting to draw it all together in a slide show.
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When writing your presentation script make sure it adheres to the conventions that are usual in effective storytelling. This means it should have a starting point, a middle part, and an ending. Create a comprehensive plot that builds up to some climax. Make it so that your targeted audience are appreciative of each of your slides yet keen to know what is coming next. And, where possible, leave your audience eager for more.
As a presentation progresses, it is important that the item being explained or talked about by the presenter is the one on the projection screen at that time. Audiences are prone to reading the entire contents of a slide immediately upon these being displayed. Hence, if the next three points you want to make are displayed before you reach them, your audience will be ahead of you while you play catch-up instead of listening intently to the important point you are presently trying to make.
A presentation should be planned so that only one new idea or point is on display at any one time. If, for example, you are using MS PowerPoint it is possible to reveal each bullet point one-by-one as you are ready to reveal them. Consider putting charts on subsequent slides so that you can refer to them when you get around to explaining the data contained on them. It is the task of a presenter to manage or control the speed and manner in which information flows to ensure their audience to remain in step with them.
The majority of failed presentations occur when the author, believing these documents are stand-alone, crams everything they intend to say to their audience onto presentation slides in big chunks of unbroken text.
If you are tempted to do this, do not congratulate yourself yet! All this is likely to do is cause an entire audience to become seriously bored and lose interest.
Slides are intended to be illustrations to assist a presentation and not the actual presentation. They are meant to reinforce and underline the points you make or ideas you want to convey while you are delivering a presentation. Large paragraphs and big blocks of text should be confined to the script you write. Most presentation programs including PowerPoint have a built-in feature for displaying notes solely on the screen the presenter is using without showing them on the projection screen the audience is looking at. Alternatively, you can put notes on a separate Word document, on note-cards, or memorize them. Just remember not to put them on the main screen, and if you do so for one reason or another, do not turn away from your audience to read them off the projection screen.
Again, most presentation-making software – PowerPoint included – offers a variety of tools for adding visual elements to slides including “flash features,” e.g., flashing headers and other text, swipes, fades, and a number of other irritants that are very easy to add.
Do not be tempted to unnecessarily dress pages with hackneyed effects. Instead, try to create a design around a few simple principles:
When it comes to adding images to presentations, opinion is divided – primarily into two ways of thinking. Some people feel that images make a presentation more visually interesting and that they help to engage audiences. Other people feel images are distracting and unnecessary.
There is certain merit in each of these arguments, so the best solution may be to go somewhere down the middle e.g. include images if they are value-added and add some crucial information or help solidify some abstract idea or point.
Staying on this same subject, we absolutely advise against the use of the clipart that is in-built in the PowerPoint software. Virtually every member of your audience will have seen the clipart in the 2003 and earlier versions of the MS Office Suite countless times. These have become overly used and tired clichés and you will hardly need reminding that hackneyed gimmicks of this type are best avoided in a presentation. There is some less familiar clipart in the MS Office 2007 suite and in other non-Microsoft presentation programs. However, this is soon likely to be as over-used as the clipart in earlier versions and, in any case, the whole clipart concept is past its sell-by date – it no longer feels novel or fresh.
Bear in mind at all times that the presentation slides you are showing on screen are not the primary part – they are simply a part of your overall presentation. While it is likely the room you will be presenting in will be darkened, do think about your own style as a presenter e.g. your clothes, your posture, the way you speak and move within the presentation area. When you are presenting everyone will be focused on you, regardless of whether your slide show is interesting or not.
As is the case with good writing, good presentations seek to get the attention of an audience early on and continue to keep them hooked. To achieve this, begin with an intriguing or surprising fact i.e. something riveting that piques the interest of attendees and makes them want to hear more. The best hooks are usually ones that directly appeal to the emotions of an audience. So offer something amazing, or where appropriate, something alarming. From there, the remainder of your speech and presentation will fulfil your early promise to bring the amazing thing to life or dispel the frightening thing.
Asking questions serves the purpose of piquing interest, arousing curiosity, and engaging an audience. So it is advisable to ask lots of questions. Ask a question to build up tension and keep your listeners in suspense for a short while before you move on to the slide that answers the question. Test the knowledge of your audience and then let them see how scant their knowledge is. Where appropriate, hold question and answer sessions with the audience where you are the person posing questions and testing knowledge.
It is very easy to get into the habit of droning and to keep talking with little change to tone and inflection, particularly when presentations are regular occurrences for you. However, in a presentation situation, you should speak in the manner you would to friends rather than as though you were reading from notes (even if this is the case). In the event you find it difficult to maintain a tone that is personable and lively during a presentation, try doing a few practice sessions. If it is the case you continue to find it difficult to get this right and your job requires a lot of presentation work, consider a course in public speaking or becoming a member of Toastmasters.
As is the case with most things, there may be times when some or all of the above rules – and/or other rules you are aware of – will not be applicable. If or when you are sure, there is sufficient reason for breaking a particular rule then break it. Sometimes it is entirely acceptable to break rules. It is only when you ignore rules or break them purely because you do not know you are doing it that causes presentations to be depressing, boring, full of awkward breaks, and to eventually die. In addition, it is unlikely you want this to happen to you!