For most professionals, you'll have to create a PowerPoint presentation at least once in your career. Presenting, as with other "soft skills" (like communication, leadership, and negotiation), is now a must-have for most roles in the workplace. Because of this, it's important to learn how to make compelling presentations—even if you're not an experienced presenter, speaker, or designer. Here are six steps that can help you level up your presentation game:
Step 1. Learn How to Start a PowerPoint Presentation Persuasively
One thing you need to keep in mind as you're planning your presentation is how you'll start it. You don't have to write out the beginning right now, but throughout the planning process, you need to be on the lookout for the hook of your presentation.
This hook is crucial because with a strong beginning, you can draw your listeners in. Without a hook, it will take them a while to adjust to being receptive to your message. Here are some characteristics that make a strong hook:
1. Grab Your Audience's Attention
When they hear your hook, it should force them to focus on the presentation and wait in anticipation for what you're going to say next. This means it should be brief and to the point.
2. Address Their Wants and Fears
It's also great to start by addressing your audience's most pressing concerns upfront. If you're giving a presentation to small business owners on how they can get more customers, you can start with something like:
You're here because at some point, you've looked at your sales and thought, 'I could have done better'.
Addressing their main concerns, especially if it's emotionally strong, reminds them of what's at stake. More importantly, you're suggesting that you do understand where they are coming from.
3. Ask a Question
Starting with a question leads your audience to try to come up with the answer in their heads. It's also a good idea to ask a question that leads people to raise their hands or interact with you in some way so that they feel more involved in the presentation. Given the example above, an alternate beginning would be to ask
How many of you looked at your sales last month and felt disappointed?
If you want to take a deeper look into creating a strong hook, you can check out this guide for writing attention-grabbing speeches:
Step 2. Put the Audience First
One common mistake that presenters make is focusing mostly on their own ideas and story. Unless you tie these things with your audience's needs, they might end up bored, distracted, or worse, they might even walk out.
To prevent this, put your audience first. Before you start writing your presentation, it's best to clarify who your audience is and what their needs and expectations are. As you write your presentation, ask yourself the following questions:
- Why are they watching your presentation? What do they hope to get out of it? Figure out what their expectations and goals are and how your presentation fits into both these things. If you can conduct a survey or get in touch with your audience beforehand, this can give you a more specific idea of what they're looking for.
- How much knowledge and experience do they have on the subject? If there are any knowledge gaps, be prepared to fill them. Also, avoid spending too much time on the ideas that are too simple for your audience. For example, there's no point in explaining how to use basic Photoshop tools to a room full of advanced graphic designers.
- How would they feel about your primary message? Are there any concerns or hesitations that your audience might have against the message you're trying to relay? Be prepared to address these concerns throughout your presentation.
- What possible questions will they have along the way? Answering your audience's internal questions as you go through your presentation lets them know that you're on the same page. Plus, if there's a Q&A portion after you speak, you would have already answered the most basic questions in your presentation, paving the way for more interesting advanced questions in the Q&A.
Answering these questions can help you craft a presentation that's as engaging as possible to your audience.
Step 3. Think in Pictures and Stories
As you flesh out the points of your presentation, keep in mind the old saying "Show, don't tell." Rather than just stating your points matter-of-factly, find ways to deliver them through metaphors or stories. This will make your most important ideas easier to understand and remember.
Another advantage to thinking in metaphors and stories is that the more visual the metaphor, the easier for you to pick photos and graphics to go with your presentation.
Here are some tips that can help you come up with metaphors and stories you can use:
1. Find Existing Stories
For every crucial point you deliver, think about some stories from history, case studies, or your own experience that can help your audience see the point in a fuller context.
If you're going to present to your company about the perils of bad customer support, tell your own horror stories of bad customer support that led you to switch brands. If you're presenting to a client the dangers of failing to keep their website secure, look for case studies or news items about businesses that closed shop or lost customers because of it.
You can also use historical examples. Books like Robert Greene's "The 33 Strategies of War" or "The Lean Startup" by Eric Ries use stories and figures from history to illustrate their points. "The Lean Startup" also goes the personal route by telling stories from Ries' own experience with his startup.
2. Get Inspiration from Hollywood
Psychological research shows us that stories don't have to be factual to be persuasive—even fiction or a simulation can be powerful. For example, one of the more emotionally resonant scenes in the documentary/presentation "An Inconvenient Truth" is that of a CGI polar bear swimming in an endless ocean, with no ice for it to rest on. You can also use scenes and characters from popular movies and television to illustrate your point. The important thing is that the audience understands and remembers it.
3. Create a Storyboard
While you're thinking in terms of visuals and stories, it might also help to create a basic storyboard of your entire presentation. This is useful for setting some early plans on how your presentation will look, not just in terms of photos and graphics, but also the layout of the text and how the slides look when shown one after the other.
Step 4. Pick Your PowerPoint Template
Picking your PPT template and creating your slides is the fifth step on this list, rather than the first—and for good reason. The content of your presentation should come first. When you're starting out, it's easy to get hung up on choosing templates, fonts, and graphics, and laying out all the elements of your slides. Without strong content that appeals to your audience, however, it doesn't matter how beautiful and well-designed your slides are.
When you are ready to choose your templates here are some criteria you should look at:
As much as possible, avoid using the most common stock templates that people use. These are typically the ones that come with PowerPoint by default. When you use a template that everyone's seen over and over again, they might assume that your presentation will be equally predictable and commonplace that they'll stop paying attention as soon as they see the first slide. Instead, choose a well-designed, unique template.
There are new PowerPoint Templates being added to our GraphicRiver marketplace regularily, giving you a number of styles and fresh designs options to choose from. Here are a couple trending examples:
When testing out templates, try to reduce their size on the screen. Can you still read the text effortlessly? If you're presenting to a large audience, it's important that everyone can read any text on the slides, especially those people sitting in the back or those who have poor eyesight.
3. Interesting Imagery
Since you'll be using stories and metaphors in your presentation, it's best to accompany those with photos or graphics that fully capture the idea. These images can also break the monotony from too many consecutive slides that are just text.
Step 5. Practice and Get Feedback
Now that the visuals and text of your presentation are ready, it's time to practice. You're practicing for several reasons. First, you want to make sure that your presentation fits within your allotted presentation time. Personally, I've spoken in a handful of events where some speakers went overtime, monopolizing the time allotted for other speakers and their Q&A sessions.
Going overtime might also affect the timing and length of breaks. Consider these costs if you're tempted to make your presentation longer than it should be or if you want to skip practicing altogether. You don't want to be the speaker that everyone in the event ends up resenting. Instead keep your presentation compact.
More importantly, you're practicing to get feedback. Use this opportunity to record a video of yourself speaking. Then, try to evaluate your performance in the video. Do you speak at a good enough pace to be understood? Do you use different tonalities for emphasis? Do you appear confident? You can even show the video to some trusted colleagues and get their constructive feedback. It might sound scary to do this, but it's better to make mistakes in a safe space with people you trust rather than in the actual presentation itself.
For each run-through of your presentation, set a specific improvement goal based on your observations or the feedback you get. Should you be speaking slower? Should you speak louder? Would your presentation seem more engaging if you moved your hands? By doing this kind of deliberate practice, you'll end up with a greatly improved presentation style—no matter how awkward you were when you started.
Step 6. Polish Your Presentation.
Having compelling content and design for your presentation is good, but to make it great, make sure it's polished. Here are some final touches you can apply to your presentation as you're finishing it up:
1. Proper Alignment
Make sure all the elements of each slide are properly aligned. This maintains the balance and symmetry of your text and graphics. Alignments are adjusted one slide at a time. First, for each slide that you want to adjust, select all the objects. Then, from the PowerPoint Format tab, select Align. This will bring down a menu of alignment options. Click Align Selected Objects. When the Align menu closes, open it again, then select the type of alignment that works best for that slide. For example, if you want things centered properly, click Align Center.
2. Embedded Fonts
It's possible that the equipment you'll be using on presentation day might not have the same fonts you've used while designing your presentation. To avoid such typographic mess-ups, embed your chosen fonts within the presentation.
To do this, go to the File tab then click Options. When the Options menu launches, click the Save option from the menu on the left. Scroll down until you see the check box marked Embed fonts in the file. Check this box and choose the type of embedding you want. This will ensure that when you open your presentation, the text will display as you designed it, even if the device displaying it doesn't have the fonts you used.
3. Export Slides
Another way to ensure that your slides look the same regardless of the device viewing it is to export it to PDF or JPEG. When you send or bring your files to the venue, make sure that you save them in PPT, PDF, and JPG as a contingency plan in case there are some software or hardware problems that prevent your PPT file from displaying correctly.
Run Through Your Cues
Do a run through of your cues. For your last practice sessions, make sure you include your slide cues in your rehearsal. It's going to be inconvenient, confusing, or jarring for you and your audience if you have to keep looking at your slides behind you as you're presenting.
All This Prep Work is Worth It
From planning your hook, to coming up with metaphors, and picking the right PPT template, creating a persuasive presentation sounds like a lot of work. The good news is that if you do it right, none of that work will go to waste.
In fact, it will be a bigger waste of an opportunity if you just "wing it". By spending enough time preparing the message, content, design, and delivery of your presentation, you can be sure that your audience will appreciate and be persuaded by your final presentation.