Good and bad PowerPoint slides

Getting the Best Out of PowerPoint Series - Part 2: Five Best Practices to Make Your PowerPoint Presentations Effective

In the first part of this series, we looked at some common mistakes people make when designing slides. While that's a first step in avoiding “death by PowerPoint”, maintaining audience attention from start to finish requires presentations to be engaging and smoothly delivered. By following these best practices, you can effectively communicate your message with clarity and confidence.

Know your Audience

First things first. Always know who your audience is.

Are they drivers, managers, partners, or even clients?

The tone and content of your presentation should be tailored to fit the audience you are speaking to.

Only include information that is relevant and useful. Start by finding the purpose of the presentation, learning objectives, and the amount of information the audience knows already. This also helps in figuring out the tone and comprehension levels.

The key is to always keep your audience top-of-mind when you are building the presentation. Words, graphics, and videos incorporated need to reflect who you are speaking to.

Start by building your messaging in Word, not PowerPoint

Build out your content in a Word document first. This allows you to automatically focus on the messages to convey without adding those over-the-top features we've been conditioned to use. Starting in Word also helps you determine the proper flow of your messaging by seeing it all on one page. Once you have the ordering figured out, and you've checked for spelling and grammar errors, create your slides by dropping the streamlined content into your presentation template.

Don't forget that a PowerPoint presentation is intended to summarize the key messages of the topic you're presenting. It is the presenter's job to do a 'deeper dive' on each slide, which allows you to personalize the content and make it interesting for your audience. Don't fall into the trap of adding paragraphs of text to each page and reading your presentation word for word - that's pretty much the fastest way to lose the audience.

Time your slides beforehand

Consider how much time you spend on a social media post before boredom hits and interest fades. The same applies to your presentation. If your slides are too long, you run the risk of losing your audience. On the other hand, if the slides are too short, you may not have enough time to make your point.

First, look at your overall presentation and determine how much time you need. Then, divide that time equally between all your slides. This will give you a good starting point for figuring out how long each slide should be (they may not all run exactly the same length, but it gives you an average as a starting point).

Next, start timing yourself as you go through each slide. If you find that you're running out of time, consider whether all that information needs to be included or if it can be streamlined.

Finally, practice delivering your presentation aloud several times before you are in front of your audience. This will help you get a feel for the flow of the presentation and make any necessary adjustments to the timing of your slides. You can also ask a friend or colleague to watch your presentation and provide feedback on its overall length and pacing. With a little 'trial and error', you'll be able to find the perfect balance for your presentation.

Make use of the Presenter View

“Presenter View” is one of PowerPoint's most powerful, and least used, functions, but it can smooth out the delivery dramatically. Presenter View shows your audience the slide you created, but let's you see useful extras like the next slide, elapsed time, and speaker notes. It's also a perfect place to write notes and ideas that come up during the presentation, so they don't get lost.

To use Presenter View, you need to have two monitors - one for the audience to see, and one for you to access the Presenter View on. It helps you to remember what's coming up, without having to turn your back to the audience and look at the projected slide and makes it much easier to stay on schedule.

Keep the audience actively engaged

Despite your best efforts, your audience is not going to remember everything that was presented in the previous slides. It's always a good idea to give them a quick recap at the end of each section, and again at the end. Another great idea is to include a quick quiz or a top-level fact sheet after 'curtain call' to help the audience retain what they've just been shown. Providing your audience with a copy of your slide deck is always a good idea as it offers a reference down the road. This can also create an opportunity for further discussion.

You have a limited amount of time to capture your audience's attention, persuade them to listen, and show them the value in what you have to say. Writing the script in a Word document, figuring out the audience, timing out your slides right, and using the Presenter View, recaps and knowledge assessments can vastly improve the outcome.

PowerPoint won't do all the work, but with a little planning and preparation, and by taking advantage of the features it offers, you can produce and deliver beautiful presentations every time.