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Fine-tuning Your Presentation’s Core Message

As a presenter, your main goal is to make sure that the audience remembers the vital parts of your discussion. It’s not a particularly easy task, especially if you’re tackling several different points throughout an hour-long presentation. That’s why crafting a fine-tuned core message is important. You should have a clear and effective way to deliver the “big idea” behind your presentation. You should have something short and straight to the point that the audience can repeat and memorize.

The core message is the anchor that keeps your presentation from floating off. In other words, it keeps your presentation set on a single premise. Everything you present—from the data you share to the slides you show—should contribute in driving home this key idea. When you first sit down to prepare your presentation, it should be the first thing you have in mind. What do you want the audience to take away from your discussion? What’s the outcome you’re aiming for? The answer to these 2 questions is the first step towards an effective core message. After that, you’ll need to fine-tune your message to make sure it’s easy to repeat, recognize, and remember.

Spend some time scribbling down your ideas. Keep revising your core message to meet the following criteria:

1. Is it specific and straight to the point?

As we’ve already mentioned, the core message will be the center of your presentation. If you want to keep the discussion on the right track, your core message needs to focus on the particulars of your message. The topic of your presentation gives the audience an overview of what you might talk about, but the core message is specific and straight to the point. Determine the purpose of your presentation and make sure it’s evident in your message.

2. Is it short and conversational?

If you want the audience to remember your message, you have to make sure that it stands out. Try to write your core message in a more conversational style. As you know, there are distinct differences between the way we write and speak. Craft your presentation as you would a conversation. If you want your message to stick, keep it short and cut back on jargon and industry talk.

3. Is it relevant to your audience?

Maintain the audience’s interest by placing them at the center of your presentation. Make sure your message is relevant to their interest by keeping in mind their point of view. Do this by addressing your message directly to them. Try to answer these four questions to learn more about your audience.


Featured Image: Horia Varlan via Flickr

PowerPoint Lesson: The Rule of Thirds in Slide Design

It seems like 3 really is a magic number—particularly when it comes to presentations. First, there’s the rule of threes. If you remember, we previously talked about how Steve Jobs and Tim Cook would masterfully structure their Apple keynotes into 3 main parts, making their discussions easier to understand. And now, there’s the rule of thirds. This will help ensure that your slides are both captivating and well-balanced.

What is the rule of thirds?

The rule of thirds is a basic guideline used in visual composition, most commonly associated with the field of photography.  Basically, it suggests that your canvas should be divided into thirds or 9 equal parts. The focal points of your design should then be placed along the lines or intersections that make up these parts.

rule of thirds picture sample
(Photo Source)

As you can see, the photo’s subject is perfectly aligned with the vertical line on the left side. The book and the hand that’s holding it in place are both on an intersection in the grid. (Quick fact—in technical terms, these intersections are referred to as “power points”!)

According to experts, using the rule of thirds will make your visual compositions a lot more interesting. David Peterson, a professional photographer, had this to say about why this technique works:

[If] your subject is in the middle of the image, it’s considered static. Your eye is drawn to it then has nowhere to go from there because the object is equal distance from all sides. Therefore when your subject is positioned closer to one of the edges, it forces your eye to follow it…to find it. This allows the viewer to linger on your image longer. It makes for a more captivating photo because it’s almost interactive. Like a conversation going on between the photo and you.

Of course, this isn’t only true for photography. The rule of thirds can also be a useful guide when designing presentation decks. As internationally acclaimed communication expert, Garr Reynolds puts it, “you will find that you can apply this guideline even to PowerPoint or Keynote visuals to give them a more symmetrical and professional look“.

Here are a few samples to illustrate:

rule of thirds powerpoint slide sample 01

You can see how the logo is placed in the upper left third of the slide, near an intersection. The main visual—picture of a tablet showcasing how the product works—is placed in the lower right third of the canvas, also near a “power point”.

rule of thirds powerpoint slide sample 02

In this slide, the focal point of this slide is placed in the left third of the canvas. Meanwhile, the accompanying text is in the lower right third.

rule of thirds powerpoint slide sample 03

Here, the logo is near the upper left “power point”. This is balanced by how the brief text is aligned to the right, near the lower horizontal line. The way the background is composed also follows the rule of thirds. Notice how the corner where the road turns is near the lower left intersection.

How to use the rule of thirds in PowerPoint design

With all that said, here’s a quick tip that can help you apply the rule of thirds when working in PowerPoint. Some designers might be able to imagine where each guide line should go. For beginners, you can enable drawing guides to divide your slides easily.

Right click on any area in the slide pane and choose Grids and Guides from the menu. When the dialogue box pops up, check the option for “Display drawing guides on screen”.

rule of thirds powerpoint steps 01

You’ll get two guidelines that intersect at the center of your slide. That means you’ll have to move them around to create 9 equal parts. Luckily, Gavin McMahon of already did the math. To create the guides, drag the horizontal line to 1.25 and the vertical line to 1.67. Repeat the step by holding down CTRL and dragging the lines to the opposite direction, placing them on the same coordinates. (For widescreen presentations, the horizontal guides should be placed on 0.92 for the 16:9 setting and 1.00 for 16:10.)

With these guide lines, you can easily see if your the layout and design of your slides are well-balanced and symmetrical. Try to play around with an old presentation and see how you can improve your designs with the rule of thirds.

Featured Image: From the SlideGenius portfolio

Make Your Point: 5 Tips for Editing Presentation Content

One of the easiest ways to lose your audience is by presenting slides that resemble a wall of text. As numerous experts have pointed out, it’s hard for most people to read slides and listen to a speaker at the same time. A slide filled with text encourages your audience to ignore what you’re saying, since they can read faster than you can talk. If you want to avoid this situation, you’ll need to cut back on what’s on your slides. If you want to keep everyone’s attention, you have to carefully edit your presentation content.

In a previous blog post, we discussed the 4 fundamental qualities of presentation content. To be effective, your content needs to meet the following criteria:

1.) Has a clear and specific message
2.) Streamlined and simplified
3.) Supported by facts and data
4.) Compelling and memorable

As you can see, at least 2 of these emphasize the need for precise editing. How can you make your message clear if it’s buried under so many slides? How can you keep your points simple if there’s too much bullet points on screen? It’s time to take a step back and make sure your presentation content is straightforward and memorable.

Our top 5 tips for editing presentation content:

How to edit your presentation content
Don’t torture your audience with repetitive slides. (Source: Nic McPhee/Flickr)

Tip #1: Review the purpose of your presentation

With your initial ideas drafted out, the next thing you have to do is to figure out how much of it you can use. That means you’ll need to have a clear understand of the purpose and message of your presentation. Why were you asked to speak in the first place? What is the main takeaway that you want people to remember? Who are you expecting to address? Anything that deviates from your premise should be edited out of your presentation content.

Tip #2: Aim to follow a simple structure

The structure of your presentation should be easy to follow. Regardless of what it’s about, your presentation should resemble how stories are often told. It should have a beginning, middle, and an end. Start your presentation with an introduction, where you prepare the audience with context for your main discussion. The body of your presentation should include an in-depth but well-structured discussion of your key arguments. Then end with a conclusion that allows the audience to review and remember your core message.

Tip #3: Group similar points together

After editing your initial list, review what you have left and try to condense those points even further. Identify which of your ideas are related to or connect with each other. From there, group those points together and create main clusters that will make up the body of your presentation. Observe a few of Apple’s famous keynote presentations to see how complex discussions can be simplified into three main points.

Tip #4: Limit your examples

Examples are the best way to bring vague concepts into real life, but having too much might also derail your discussion. Another way to edit presentation content is by making sure you limit yourself to giving only 1 example for a certain point. Whether it’s a story, a metaphor, or an analogy, keep your examples quick and easy to understand. Avoid complicating an already tedious concept by loading it with a long explanation.

Tip #5: Keep it conversational

The language you use—or the way you write something—also plays a role in how effective your presentation content is. Remember, a presentation is not an essay. There are differences between the way we write and speak, so get rid of jargon and complex explanations. In an essay, you have plenty of space to explore details. At the same time, readers can enjoy your arguments at their own pace. But in presentations, you’re restricted by a time limit and an audience’s wandering attention. This why it’s important to keep your presentation content conversational.




Featured Image: Death to the Stock Photo

How to Shake Off Your Pre-Presentation Jitters

Your presentation is coming up and you’ve done everything you can to prepare.You created a slide deck that focuses on visual elements and storytelling, polished your points, and made sure your content is specific and concise. You even rehearsed your delivery a couple of times, just to make sure you remember what to do on stage.

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Despite all this, you still feel a little bit nervous about facing an audience.

Don’t worry—it’s normal.

Take this video clip of a young Steve Jobs anxiously getting ready for a TV appearance. In the years to come, we’ll see his product launches and keynotes as a benchmark for effective presentation delivery. But in this clip, he was like everyone else—slightly unsure of himself before a big speech.

When you’re aiming for the best outcome, you’ll definitely feel a lot of pressure to perform. What matters is that you perform despite the anxiety you feel.

Here are our best tips to help you shake off your pre-presentation jitters:

Use your fear as motivation

Feeling nervous before a big presentation is part of the process. The best thing you can do is to perform despite the uneasiness that you feel. Instead of letting your jitters cripple your confidence, use it as a catalyst to pump yourself up.

Of course, this is easier said than done. When your heart is beating fast and you’re feeling breathless before a big presentation, it’s hard to feel calm and confident. As we’ve discussed in the past, anxiety commonly manifests itself through physical symptoms. When your body is preparing itself for a perceived threat, it can be hard to ignore.

The best thing to do is to channel your adrenaline elsewhere. Some exercise will help your body calm down. Head to the gym in the morning. Spend a few hours working out before you’re scheduled to speak. Even a short walk during lunch break will help.

Another thing you can do is to listen to what researchers call “heavy power music.” Songs with heavy bass lines evoke a sense of power that allows listeners to mimic and internalize what they hear. In other words, songs like Queen’s “We Will Rock You” will get you feel pumped and excited. The adrenaline you feel can then turn into positive feelings of anticipation and determination.

Prepare for what you can control

Part of your anxiety might also come from a number of “what if” scenarios. Before you even step up the podium, you already have a list of worst case scenarios.

What if you can’t make the projector work? What if you end up saying the wrong thing? What if someone starts heckling? What if you can’t answer the questions asked of you in the Q&A?

You’ll feel a lot better if you understand that you can’t control everything in your presentation, especially when it comes to the audience. The only thing you can do is to prepare as much as you can. Aside from perfecting your slides and content, try to anticipate things you can control. Think of all the questions that might be asked of you. Read up on ways to handle technical difficulties and display issues. Learn some memorization techniques to make sure you won’t suffer from mental block.

It’s impossible to come up with a contingency plan for every scenario that might happen in your presentation. The best you can do is to focus on the task at hand—and that’s to communicate your points as clearly as possible.

Keep your eyes on the prize

A lot of our presentation fears stem from self-consciousness. Presenters are often afraid to make a fool out of themselves in front of other people. And because of that, they tend to focus their attention on what the audience might be thinking.

If your pre-presentation jitters are coming from the same place, it’s time to take a step back and re-frame your perspective.

Remember, this presentation is not about you. You’re delivering a presentation to meet a certain goal and to inform the audience of something that’s important to them. Instead of focusing on how nervous you feel, try to think of the bigger picture: What are the objectives you want to achieve? What’s the best way to get the best outcome?

It’s tempting to focus on the nervousness that you feel, but try to keep your attention on the goals you want to meet. Keep your eyes on the prize, as they often say.

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Featured Image: Sarah Joy via Flickr

Extending the Metaphor: 3 Tips for Choosing Images in Prezi

As the old saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. For this week’s feature, extend your visual metaphor by carefully curating the images in your design. Take note of these 3 tips for choosing images in Prezi. 

A lot has been written about the role of images in presentation design. Experts always reiterate that adding pictures to your presentations is one of the best ways to get your point across. Instead of filling the screen with a block of text, you can use a single image to highlight the idea you’re trying to convey.

Prezi is already a dynamic presentation tool, but you can still take your designs one step further by choosing the right images. Start by clicking “Insert” from the top menu and selecting “Image”. From there, you can decorate your prezi with pictures saved in your computer or easily search the web for something that perfectly represents your message.

prezi insert image 01

Extend your prezi’s visual metaphor by choosing images that go beyond an aesthetic purpose. Here are 3 tips to make sure that the pictures you use contribute to advancing the story you want to tell:

Use several keywords to find the perfect image

It’s convenient to just choose the first image that pops up, but it doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get the right one. Most of the time, the first thing you see is the first thing other people see as well. If you want to use images that are unique to your prezi, you will have to widen your search.

Find the perfect image by using several keywords as search terms. Broad and less specific keywords will get you images that aren’t too common or literal, but they might also yield results that are irrelevant to your theme. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, re-do your search with a different but related keyword. To make it easier, use a term that you commonly associate with the original keyword.

prezi images tip 1

In this example, I tried to search for images around the word “freedom” but couldn’t find one that matched my theme. I searched again using the word “flying” and found an image that works better for the metaphor I’m going for.

Look for images that are simple but poignant

Obviously, the images in your prezi should leave an impact on your audience. Look for ones that depict a strong emotion. Audiences tend to connect with what they find relatable, so try to deviate from overly staged stock photos. If you’re a PRO user, you can extend your search to Flickr. Click on the down arrow beside the search button and adjust the options as you’d like. Just be sure to tick the box that filters out copyrighted materials.

prezi insert image 09

While you’re aiming for drama, it doesn’t mean that you have to go with the most intricate image you find. When it comes to presentation design, simplicity can also be poignant. A picture that’s bold and streamlined is a lot easier on the eyes. Without too many details to distract the audience, it can also quickly attract attention.

Choose an image with plenty of white space. An image that doesn’t have a lot going on will draw focus on only a few elements, making your prezi look less cluttered. White space is particularly important to create balance, which you’ll need if you have plenty of other items in a single frame.

Give all pictures a consistent look with some editing

By using several different images, you might end up with visuals that look disjointed and incoherent. To make sure everything looks consistent, take the time to edit and enhance the look of your pictures. Select the image you want to edit and choose “Effects.”

prezi insert image 04

From there, you’ll have access to a photo editor without having to leave Prezi. Make the necessary adjustments and apply the same (or similar looking) filters to achieve a more consistent look.

prezi insert image 06
Your prezi is sure to stand out if you’re careful about the images you choose. It’s not enough that you decorate your presentation with visuals that are aesthetically pleasing. The images in your prezi should also serve a purpose. Extend your visual metaphor by carefully choosing images that are relevant to your core message.
Featured Image: Featured Image: Death to the Stock Photo / Prezi logo via Wikimedia Commons

Presentation Tips: 5 Easy Ways to Establish Your Credibility

What does it take to convince an audience?

As we often say, the success of your presentation relies on how well the audience receives you. If you can present yourself as someone who is trustworthy and reliable, then you’re one step closer to achieving the outcome you want. This is why first impressions are particularly important in the world of business. When you’re trying to impress potential clients or investors, your message is only as good as how you present yourself.

So how do you establish your credibility and authority? How do you cast away any doubts that the audience may have about you? Aside from making sure you leave a positive impression, you also need to be careful about particular things in your presentation. The smallest misstep might cost you a successful outcome, so keep these presentation tips in mind:

Do your research

As a presenter, you’re expected to be knowledgeable about the topic you’re presenting. Make sure you know your subject matter inside out before you step on stage. Don’t just rely on the information that you already know or have. Research might be tedious work, but it’s the only way you can be sure that you won’t be blindsided during your presentation. What if someone asks a difficult question? What if there are points that you need to elaborate? Your credibility relies on your preparation.

Provide clear and specific data

Don’t expect the audience to take everything you say at face value. Always provide specific data to back up everything you say. You can’t expect your audience to verify your information on their own time. Lay out the numbers for them in a clear and discernible way. Make use of charts and illustrations to make sure that your data is presented in a comprehensible way.

Proofread your slides

Grammar slips and typos might seem like small mistakes, but they’re sure to cost you in the long run. As a presenter, your credibility rests on your communication skills. Aside from being an eloquent speaker, you also need to show that you’re a capable writer. Take the time to double-check your slides for any grammar and spelling mistakes. To be extra sure, you can also ask someone else to proofread your content.

Share your credentials

For pitches, it’s important to show your audience your accomplishments. Give your prospects a chance to see how well you’ve worked with previous clients or customers. You can show them brief testimonials or quickly outline your achievements. Don’t shy away from anything that will prove that you’re exactly what they’re looking for. Check this in-depth discussion to learn more about impressing investors with an awesome pitch deck.

Handle interruptions and mistakes with grace

As much as you prepare, you can’t always account for everything that could happen during a presentation. You might make a mistake. Your presentation might be interrupted by technical difficulties. Whatever happens, make sure you keep your composure. Handle any unscripted disruptions with grace. A sincere apology can go a long way to undo any negative impression you make.

As a presenter, you need to be careful with anything you say or do on stage. You also need to scrutinize every slide you show your audience. Any mistake—no matter how small—can easily hurt your credibility. Make sure you put your best foot forward with these quick and easy presentation tips.


Featured Image: Dennis Stachel for GDC Europe via Flickr

Why Your Presentations Need Better Slide Headlines

Presentation expert Nancy Duarte suggested a quick way to diagnose bad slides. To check your own work, step back and ask yourself, “will the audience get my point with just a quick glance?”

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Nancy’s “glance test” likens PowerPoint slides to billboard ads. Unless you want to hold up traffic, you can’t stop your car to examine every detail of the ad looming over you. A billboard should catch your attention and tell its story in seconds. Your slides should get to the point just as quickly.

An easy way to do that is to keep your designs simple.

Nancy offers many great design tips to make sure your slides pass the glance test. But apart from manipulating visuals, there’s another way to ensure that your slides immediately get to the point.

Just like a news article or a viral blog post, your slides need descriptive headlines.

The usual slide headlines

Instead of descriptive titles, most slides are headlined by a single word or a quick phrase. At first glance, the first thing an audience sees are words like “Objectives or “Goals and Accomplishments”. If you do the same thing for a blog posts or press release, do you think you’ll get as much readers?

(Image Source)

These headlines can only share a small part about a particular slide. PowerPoint expert Gavin McMahon more accurately calls them “labels.”

Instead of urging the audience to think, “I want to know more about this,” they see text that they’ve likely seen before from other presentations. By changing labels to descriptive headlines, you can convey a complete and interesting idea. You can inadvertently tell the audience to listen closely to what you have to say.

Writing better headlines

In a study published by the Society for Technical Communication, a group of researchers examined how effective descriptive slide headlines are. The researchers presented two different versions of the same slide deck to several sections of 200 students. The first version had slides headlined with the usual short phrases. The other one made use of short descriptive sentences. Even if the study is focused on education, the results show how important it is to write better slide headlines.

When asked to recall the main assertions of slides, the students in the sections taught with the sentence-headline slides had significantly higher recall… For the 15 questions in the study, the average score for the students viewing the sentence-headline slides was 79% correct, while the average for the students viewing the traditional slides was only 69% correct.

So if you want to make sure the audience remembers your message, you’ll need to start writing better headlines. Here are a few tips to help you out:

  • Highlight the main takeaway. Make sure the key takeaway is clear in your headline. Always ask yourself what you want the audience to remember from each slide you make.
  • Be specific. Try to be as specific as possible. While your headline doesn’t have to be long, it should accurately describe what’s tackled in your slide.
  • Feed their curiosity. Write headlines that say enough to urge the audience to ask, “what happens next?”
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Featured Image: Lena Vasiljeva via Flickr

3 More Ways to Memorize Presentations Easily

In the past, we discussed a classic technique that you could use to memorize presentations. Heavily featured in the BBC show “Sherlock,” the memory palace technique allows you to use a mental image of any space or location to remember key points in your speech. It’s very effective, often used by memory athletes to memorize a random names or cards in under a few seconds.

Of course, the memory palace technique will take longer for newbies who are looking to memorize presentations. If you find it a bit challenging to focus on building your own mind space, there are other methods to help improve your memory and reduce your use of note cards. You’ll never have to worry about mental blocks with these 3 additional ways to memorize presentations.

1. Rehearse your presentation out loud

It’s not enough to just read your presentation again and again. If you really want to memorize presentations, you have to make time for a few rehearsals. According to a study published in 2010, memory can improve by more than 10 percent if information is spoken and repeated out loud.

So give yourself time to rehearse your presentation for more than just a few times. You can also make things easier by recording your sessions. Hearing yourself speak will help in internalizing your presentation. It will also help you pinpoint which parts might need more improvement.

2. Keep your rehearsals within the 20-20-20 rule

While repeated rehearsals are important, experts also recommend to keep sessions within the 20-20-20 rule. According to this rule, it will be easier to memorize presentations by reviewing your material for 20 minutes and then repeating the information twice for 20 minutes each. If you’re dealing with longer presentations, you can break up your speech into manageable parts and work piece by piece.

3. Make a mind map of your presentation

It will also help if you can visualize how your ideas and arguments relate to one another. Through a mind map, you can see the logical progression of your presentation. The shape or image you come up with will make it easier to remember how one point connects to the next, as opposed to simply having a list or outline as reference. To make sure your mind map works effectively,  use different colors for each “branch”. You can also add drawings that illustrate your points.

Other helpful tips:

  • Avoid distractions.  It will be hard to focus when you have to periodically answer emails and text messages. Always rid your practice sessions of any distraction. Step away from your computer and turn off notifications for your phone for a while. Keep your attention on the task at hand.
  • Make time for short breaks. Even as you work hard to deliver a great presentation, don’t forget to reward yourself with short breaks. Give yourself time to relax in between each rehearsal to keep your creativity flowing.
  • Get enough sleep. Sleep is also a crucial ingredient in memory improvement. According to several studies, there’s a strong relationship between sleep and memory. As an article on Psychology Today points out, “There is no longer any doubt. Sleep does improve the gelling or consolidation of memory for recently encoded information.” Make sure you get enough rest on the days leading up to your presentation.

As you know, preparing for a big presentation involves a lot of effort. Aside from perfecting your slides and content, you also need to make sure that you remember everything you have to say. Memorize presentations by setting time to rehearse and visualize your materials. You can breeze through your time on stage and never have to worry about your note cards again.


Featured Image: Brian Hillegas via Flickr