How to avoid “death by PowerPoint”

There are very few things that can fill a person with anxiety and dread quite like another boring PowerPoint presentation. A recent study focused on productivity in the workplace noted that middle management employees spent on average 35% of their time in meetings, and top-level management employees spending just over 50% of their time in meetings.

What was worse, is that 75% of people who were interviewed felt that the majority of the meetings they were in were unproductive.

We have all been victims of the monotonous drone that is “death by PowerPoint”. In the digital age we find ourselves in, there is a plethora of more interesting distractions - most likely on our smartphones - text messaging, social media, games and e-mails.
It is vital to remember that presentations are not just focused on simply sharing data, statistics and facts and plans. They need to be relevant, punchy, entertaining as well as interactive, if you want to influence the audience to buy in to as well as act upon what you share with them. In order to deliver an engaging presentation to your audience you need to make use of key best practice techniques, be disciplined and practice what you are presenting. Whilst this is not always easy, it is worth it when the audience is engaged and leaves the presentation actually remembering and acting upon what you said.

Below are three techniques that you can use to give yourself the best chance for giving an engaging presentation that will be remembered:

1. Grab their attention from the start

The way in which you start your presentation, will directly determine your audience's engagement. The majority of people are entering meetings in a negative mindset and as such have short attention spans, if you don’t captivate them from the beginning you will quickly find you have lost them. To achieve this, here are a few tricks of the trade:

- Skip the boring introductions and re-hashing of the reason for the presentation. The audience already knows why they are there, so there is no need to introduce yourselves in great detail or give the reason you're there.

- Make use of storytelling, but make sure that it is short and punchy; under a minute. Make sure the story is linked directly to the meeting topic, is relevant and has a beginning, a climax and strong ending point. Sharing a story is a great way to immediately engage your audience, helping them relate to the topic in a more personal way.

- Be a showman. Tantalize and tease your audience. Do not just tell the audience what they will learn (this is what they expect); hint at how the solution will be shared and show how impactful it can be (this encourages them to pay attention for what is coming).

2. Stop reading your slides.

The fastest way for a presenter to lose their audience attention, is to read your slides (if you are going to simply read from your slides, send the presentation as a PDF and skip the meeting). The same can be said for presenters that talk too much and fail to recognize when it is time to stop talking – remember good presentations are interactive.

Make sure that you make use of a variety of mediums to make your point, a combination of slides, video, props and two-way participation such as questions and answer sessions. If you are going to use supporting materials, learn to use them correctly.

- Remember that people can't read a slide and listen to what you are saying at the same time

- When using presentation slides always keep it simple

- Use brief bullet points and pictures that tell a story where possible

- When you change to a new slide, allow a moment for the audience to read the data without your interruption

- Make use of a handheld slide clicker so as not to walk in front of the screen as well as to have seamless transitions

- Embed all videos (no one likes a video that buffers)

- Test all links that you do use in your presentation

- Don't let your props steal your show. Allow the audience to interact without being distracted by your talking. It is important to know when to be quiet, and let them process the prop and what it does.

3. Create a memorable takeaway.

It is important to understand that the “takeaway” is not simply a summary of what you said, but rather it is a true understanding of what you presented. If you use your “takeaway” as simply a summary you invite the audience to check out. To avoid this the “takeaway” must be strong and purposeful – It is your punchline – the moment the audience goes “I get it”, this is the "a-ha" moment they won’t be able to forget. You may want to consider story telling here again, but don’t present the problem, rather highlight the benefits of what you shared.

When you implement the three above ideas, you give yourself the best opportunity to influence your audience in such a way that they remember and act upon what you said and what they learned from your presentation. The ideal is for them to leave feeling that their time was well spent and your presentation was not one of those wasted meetings. An engaged audience will more than likely remember what you said, take action and look forward to your next presentation.

Crafted by Chris Midgley

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