How To Make Powerful Presentations

Avoid Pointless and Powerless Presentations

Do you make powerful presentations?

Are your presentations always a success or could they benefit from a bit more oomph?

In this article we’ll take a look at how to make presentations that have real power.

Powerful Presentations

What do you do first? Turn on PowerPoint?

Big mistake!

Why have you gone straight to PowerPoint? Is the answer:

  • that’s what I always do?
  • it’s expected – that’s what everyone does?
  • because presentations have to have slides don’t they?

If the answer’s one of the above, or similar, be honest, do they really make much sense?

Do you really need visual aids.

And do your slides really aid understanding and audience recall of your key message?

Shall we see if there’s a better way to approach presentations?

Plan for Success

The key to success is to have a clear purpose. Therefore, the first thing to do is plan your presentation.

It is likely that the presentation will fall into one of three categories:

  • to present information
  • to persuade
  • to teach or instruct

Focus on the audience.

What do they want (or need) to take away from your presentation? And what will they hope or expect to learn?

Of course, if it is a persuasive type presentation, you will want to achieve certain objectives. Be clear what they are.

How does what your audience wants fit with your objectives for the presentation? How can you combine the two requirements?

Powerful Presentation Structure

Once you have an outline plan of what you want to say, it’s time to develop a structure for the presentation.

If the information you present is delivered so it flows in a logical fashion, it will make it much easier for the listeners to take onboard what is being presented to them.

Done that? OK, so now let’s consider how to deliver a powerful presentation. A presentation that the audience will remember.

After all, if they don’t remember the important parts, they’re not going to act on them, are they?

Powerful or Pointless Presentation?

Back to PowerPoint slides (or Google Slides, Prezi etc).

Have you been at a presentation when the presenter has mostly just read the words on their slides?

And you reached the end of the text before they did? Do you remember anything about it? Apart from it being tedious?

OK, let’s admit it, many of us may have made presentations a bit like that in the past. Because it’s what we saw others doing, so we didn’t stop to think about doing it differently.

In the words of Stephen Kosslyn, a cognitive neuroscientist who specializes in the psychology of learning and visual communication:
“There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with the PowerPoint program as a medium; rather … that the problem lies in how it is used.”

How can you use PowerPoint well?

PowerPoint was originally designed to provide visuals for group presentations. Note the word visual.

“One picture is worth a thousand words.”

Disappointingly, there’s no science behind this quote. Apparently, it was coined by advertising executive Fred R. Barnard in 1921. But don’t let that dissuade you from believing the power of imagery.

Scientific studies do show that the brain encodes images much more effectively than mere words alone.

Using word pictures can be a great way to help presentations have more impact and to make the message more memorable.

However, sometimes there’s no substitute for physical images.

Think about your presentation. Which parts of it might be difficult for the audience to take onboard? Could a picture, a diagram or a physical object help to describe things more effectively?

What are your key points? Which are the most important for the audience to remember? Once again, could some sort of physical or on-screen image help?

Physical props can be very useful, if for no other reason than they don’t require a laptop, projector and screen.

But most times you need visual aids, you’re going to use PowerPoint, aren’t you?

What’s best to avoid?

Just because you can doesn’t mean you should if you want yours to be a powerful presentation.

Anything you present on a slide will distract the audience from focussing on what you are saying. So unless it is absolutely essential, leave it off.

That goes for organisation logos, page titles, fancy page formats, flying text, in fact, almost any text.

Even images will be a distraction. Therefore it’s a good idea to pause and let the audience look at the image and absorb it before you start to speak again.

Bar Chart

Bar Chart

By using simple charts the audience is more likely to recall that the numbers were steadily rising, falling or fluctuating. The trend, if there is one, will be clear.

The actual numbers can be added to the image but it’s better to avoid clutter. Maybe identifying the lowest and highest number will suffice.

And whether you are showing numbers or words identifying the axes, make sure they are large enough to be clearly visible at the back of the room.

Pie charts are an ideal way to show the share of different aspects in an overall picture.

These work best when there aren’t too many components. Too many sectors mean that any attempt to identify them by colour or labelling will be difficult.

Pie Chart

Pie Chart

Photographs or other images are widely available on the Internet but be careful of infringing copyrights, particularly if your presentation is for commercial purposes.

Software such as Canva can be used to create your own images and Unsplash is a free source of high-quality photographs.

Before rushing off to produce slides, could there be a better way, at least in part?

In his book, Lend Me Your Ears, Professor Max Atkinson argues the case for so-called ‘chalk and talk’. Rather than chalk and a blackboard, substitute a whiteboard or even good old-fashioned flipcharts.

As mentioned previously, one of the problems with slides is that they draw the attention of the audience away from the presenter.

If you need to draw a simple diagram or write the odd couple of words to emphasise something, it is easy to do so on a flipchart or whiteboard.

Use a whiteboard or flipchart for 'chalk and talk'.

Chalk & Talk

Although you will be turning your back on the audience briefly, you can talk them through what you are doing. This way they will keep their focus on you as well as what you are drawing or writing. Here, Simon Sinek demonstrates this principle in a TED presentation.

Delivering the Powerful Presentation

If you are using slides, it’s important only to show the one you are speaking about. And when you move to the next topic, turn off the projector or show a plain black slide until you are ready for the next slide.

Although you want to stand as close to the screen as possible, try to avoid blocking the beam from the projector. Part obscured slides just don’t work and it will irritate the audience.

Be a Powerful Presenter not Pointless and Powerless

Do you need visual aids?

Is PowerPoint really the best way to achieve your objectives?

Whatever approach you choose, stay focussed on what will really help the audience.

Then your presentations will be powerful!


Last updated 2nd November 2023


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