Five insanely simple ideas to make your next presentation sizzle

Poll Everywhere welcomes Jon Thomas as the guest author of this post.

Creating an effective PowerPoint presentation is a skill that is rarely ever taught, but somehow we’re all expected to create dazzling presentations. Though, as we all know, it rarely ever dazzles. It usually fizzles.

I’m kind of a presentation geek and I’ve found that there are far more effective ways to utilize PowerPoint as a visual backdrop to your story.

It’s not even the only game in town anymore. Apple’s Keynote has earned staunch support from the design community. Tools like Prezi have re-imagined what a presentation should look like, and online software like Sliderocket and Slideshare have allowed us to collaborate and share presentations virtually. The idea of what a presentation “is” is being reinvented over and over again as new technologies emerge.

So what’s a novice presentation designer to do? First, don’t lose hope. The advantage we all have is that we’re still in the first leg of this race. Presentation designers have emerged to help companies take off like Usain Bolt, but you can still get a leg up on the rest of your competitors who are still in the starting blocks.

Here are five simple PowerPoint tips that sizzle:


1. What’s your story?

In order to create and deliver an effective PowerPoint presentation, it has to be based in narrative. That’s the only way your audience will listen and remember what you’re trying to tell them.

It’s the Free-Time Paradox: we don’t have 30 seconds anymore to listen to a sales pitch (DVRs are a blessing), but we have 30 minutes to hear a great story. Find the story at the heart of your presentation by answering questions such as: “What are your audience’s needs? What do they care about? What problems are keeping them up at night? How will your product or service make their lives better?”

2. Focus on one idea

Whether you admit it or not, you’re lucky if your audience walks away from your presentation remembering one idea you presented. It’s just the reality of presenting.

So if your audience will walk away remembering one thing, what would that be? Find that one idea – that one reason you’re standing up there presenting – and make sure every bit of content in your presentation revolves around that idea. If it doesn’t, you have to scrap it. “Kill your darlings” as the saying goes.

3. Shatter your template

PowerPoint templates are inherently constricting and the majority of them are terrible.

Most businesses require their employees to create presentations within a template, which is fine, but if the templates don’t give a wide variety of slide options, the employee designing the presentation will feel inhibited. If you have the freedom to ditch the template, do it. If you can’t, see how far you can take it. Can you use full-bleed images? Does the logo have to be on every slide?


4. Images, images, images

What once was revolutionary only five years ago is now old hat, but it’s a very important hat.

Utilizing effective, vibrant images brings your presentation to life and provides a visual cue that your audience’s brain can attach to your message, and that’s very important. Dr. John Medina, author of Brain Rules (a fantastic book), states that, “Vision trumps all other senses.”

According to Dr. Medina, vision is by far our most dominant sense, utilizing half our brain’s resources, and adding an image to a text-based message can increase recall by 55%. Use tools like Compfight to find free images that you can use to express your ideas.

5. Give your ideas room to breathe

One common mistake most people make when designing PowerPoint presentations is combining multiple ideas onto one slide.

However, the audience can only retain so much information at once, and when multiple ideas are delivered on one slide (often in bullet-point format), there’s little to no opportunity to allow the audience to attach a visual cue to each idea. Thus, they are all grouped together and the opportunity for the audience to recall any of those ideas is drastically reduced.

Instead, break each important idea onto multiple slides and find supporting imagery for each of them (and don’t worry about how many additional slides this creates – there’s no difference between spending two minutes on one slide or 30 seconds on each of four slides).

Your idea and its supporting points are like characters in a Broadway play. You rarely remember the ones who are part of the ensemble, but the ones who get the spotlight are unforgettable. Allow each point within your presentation its own time to shine in the spotlight. This allows you to use supporting imagery for each point, subsequently allowing your audience to remember each idea more clearly.

effective powerpoint spotlight

Creating an effective PowerPoint presentation, or any type of presentation, is far more than just knowing how to import images and resize fonts. But you don’t have to be Steve Jobs to deliver an inspiring presentation. If you follow these five tips, you’ll launch out of that starting block and be well on your way to creating dynamic presentations that resonate with audiences for days, weeks, months, or even years to come.

Communication is a two-way street

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By {grow} Community Member Jon Thomas. Jon Thomas is Communications Director for Story Worldwide and a curator of the Post-Advertising Summit. He routinely contributes to {grow}.