How to take your PowerPoint presentation to the next level

If you're still giving presentations with just PowerPoint, it's time for an upgrade.

Presentation via laptop
Credit: Joi

At some point during the past couple of decades, presentations and speeches have turned into slideshow competitions, with each professional trying to add the best effects. In the process, meetings have gradually veered off course, with every presentation coming across as more of a sales pitch than an informational session.

Whether you’re planning a speaking engagement at a large industry conference or preparing for a big staff meeting, it’s important to realize the benefits of speaking to attendees rather than merely flashing a series of slides. Here are a few tips that can help boost your presentations.

Use slides as talking points

As PowerPoint has become more prevalent, experts have regularly advised against overreliance on the tool. The best presentations are conversational, with the presenter speaking to the audience in a casual, natural tone. Just as speakers have been cautioned against reading from index cards, the same warning has been applied to PowerPoint-based presentations. Yet too many speakers make their way through a presentation one slide at a time, often seeming as though they don’t even know what the next slide will say until they see it.

Your slides should be used to enhance what you’re saying, not provide the full context of each point. Instead of front-loading your slide with 100 words of text, instead incorporate images and a few select words. If you do include text, make sure it serves solely as the jumping-off point for what you’ll say. Simply repeating the words on the screen will bore your audience, since they can read the visuals themselves. While it’s okay to occasionally glance at the screen, it’s important to focus the majority of your attention on your audience.

Use real-time editing

Instead of flashing finished slides at your audience, consider making it interactive. Pull members of the audience to the front of the room to demonstrate a concept. Regularly ask participants questions or divide them into groups for an impromptu brainstorming session. If you have a whiteboard or easel, use it to capture ideas or get a point across. This type of real-time creation can capture attention far more effectively than images that were prepared in advance.

For webinars, interactivity can be more challenging. Your attendees aren’t in front of you and at times, you may not even be sure they’re listening. Make sure you involve at least a couple of attendees in the conversation by asking them to speak out. You can also add in a Q&A element to your webinar to make participants feel more engaged. Consider using full-service webinar software that incorporates interactivity. Tools like ClickMeeting let you write directly on your presentation content during the webinar, helping you emphasize important points and keep your audience focused.

Rehearse

If you’re going through your presentation for the first time ever in front of a group of people, you’re likely setting yourself up for failure. Few people can engage an audience without at least a small amount of practice. It may seem as though skipping rehearsal will make the presentation come across as more natural, but every new presentation seems more natural over time. Even if you’ve given a presentation in the past, schedule time to rehearse it all the way through at least three times before your scheduled event.

Experts recommend rehearsing in an environment that is as close as possible to the actual venue. If your presentation is in a large auditorium with a microphone, practicing in your home office in hushed tones won’t accurately emulate the environment you’ll have during the event itself. If your upcoming event is a webinar, practice going through the slides and speaking in the same tone you’ll use during the call. A friend or coworker could even help out by conducting a rehearsal call. This not only tests out your inflection and presentation, but it also helps you identify any technical issues that might get in the way of your presentation going smoothly.

Your business presentations can help you communicate ideas to your employees, clients, and colleagues. However, an eye-catching PowerPoint slideshow is only the beginning. It’s important that professionals learn to use their presentation software to enhance their presentations rather than serving as a crutch. With plenty of practice and a strong message, a presenter can’t go wrong.

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