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11 Guidelines for Planning & Designing Your Best Presentation

October 23, 2019 / Blog

We’ve all seen our fair share of dull PowerPoint presentations.

You know the ones—those wonderful preloaded templates. The walls of text. The “page turn” transitions…

Suffice it to say, presentations — and their visual aids — have come a long way since the early days of PowerPoint. 

At SlideGenius, we’ve spent the last eight years mastering all the tricks and skills needed to deliver a truly excellent presentation that stands out from the crowd, which is why we wrote this post on 11 tricks you can harness to create a winning presentation:

1) Start with a Strong Hook

They say the first 10 minutes of any presentation are the most crucial.

That time frame is when your audience is most receptive to what you have to say. Fail to catch their interest from the start and you may as well pack it up for the day.

You need to start strong with a compelling hook that makes your audience want to know more.

Propose a thought-provoking question or tap into the essential interests of your audience. The goal is to set the stage for your presentation. Everything you present should be grounded in what you establish at the start, to deliver a satisfying payoff for your audience.

For maximum effect, be sure to do the same with your presentation deck. Here’s how Spotify hooks it’s audience with colorful animation:

This presentation grabs your attention right off the bat with its beautiful, fresh imagery and animation sequences. You can’t help but be excited, can you?

2) Use Storytelling to Help Information Retention

The typical business presentation can be boring, bland, and emotionless, the culprit typically being the presenter focusing too much on hard facts without any sense of narrative. 

Information will always have its place in presentations, but the human element of your presentation should not be overlooked.

Numerous studies have shown that humans remember information more easily when it’s structured like a story. (In fact, memory champions regularly integrate a storyline structure to help recall long strings of information.)

Having a basic narrative structure helps establish a flow that audiences can follow and anticipate. Just ask Dr. Zak, who carefully explains how the human brain responds to effective storytelling in this video:

As you plan your slides, create a sense of progression and development. Begin with an introduction that establishes and contextualizes who you are and what you offer.

Naturally, the middle of the presentation should build on your foundation, providing proof you can deliver on your claims.

Your conclusion should tie everything together and deliver a feeling of fulfillment and excitement.

3) Use Visuals to Grab (and Keep) Your Audience’s Attention

Just like there have been countless number of studies on how storytelling can help increase memory, an equal number of studies have proven how humans are visual creatures.

We don’t just crave imagery, we need it.

So why don’t more high-stakes presentations take visuals more seriously? 

Your presentations should make use of high-quality images, diagrams, and chart designs while integrating them with attention-grabbing animations.

The trick is not to overdo it (too many animations can actually be overwhelming), to make them consistent, and to select images that your audience will be able to relate to (more on that later).

Here’s example from our friends over at Red Bull:

Pretty cool, huh?

See how cohesive the narrative and design elements are? It really ties in Red Bull’s identity and keeps the presentation consistent and visually stimulating.

4) Don’t Show. TELL.

The most common mistake presenters are guilty of is an over reliance on text. This creates two glaring problems:

  1. Blocks of text are not appealing to look at.
  2. Too much text can cause you to use the slides as a script. When faced with such unfiltered information, audiences are sure to tune out quickly. 

As stated previously, you need to tell your story using visuals — and the best way to allow that is to minimize text on each slide to create more real estate for imagery and animation to flourish.

It will take some time and practice to get used to, but you can rely on images to deliver the same message a line of text normally would.

(After all, “a picture is worth a thousand words”, as they say.)

Here’s an example of how we helped Duolingo visualize information that would have otherwise been dull:

It’s important to keep in mind that with less text to read from, it will rest on your presentation skills to emphasize the essential information on screen.

5) Understand Your Audience for Maximum Effect

Marketing 101… know your audience.

Always be mindful of who exactly you are presenting to because people only care about what you can do for them.

If you’re trying to garner a company-wide buy-in for a new Design Operations initiative, the presentation you’d use to present your argument to C-level executives should be much different than the one you’d use to present to your company’s creative team.

Both teams will benefit from the new initiative. However, each team has different goals to achieve. Hence, the information in each presentation should speak to each audience’s respective goals.

And yet time and again, we see companies using the same sales presentation across different buyer personas, or recycling presentations meant for a specific department across the entire organization.

A more tangible example comes from brand communication coach Carmine Gallo’s book, The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs, where he helped a CEO prepare a sales presentation for an audience of tech-savvy analysts.

Gallo suggested the CEO simply state the relevance of his company’s technological services to the audience instead of his originally lengthy and technical explanation.

The CEO asked his audience to hold their cellphones out. Then, he elaborated on how his company made those devices more efficient for its users.

Let’s think about this for a moment. His audience was mostly tech-savvy people. Although most of the audience could have kept up with the CEO’s original tech-heavy introduction, they still needed to know why the CEO’s topic matters to them.

With this approach, the CEO was able to keep his presentation simple and relevant with an engaging delivery about what his company can offer his audience.

6) Encourage Audience Participation for Increased Engagement

Audience participation is important because it deepens your relationship with your audience, while exhibiting your openness and transparency as a presenter.

The point is to treat your audience as an integral part of your presentation (instead of simply spectators) because based on the form of interaction, it can help your audience make important connections around what you’re presenting.

Here are some things you can do to encourage audience interaction:

  1. Ask them questions
  2. Give them something physical to do
  3. Give them something to react to
  4. Invite a volunteer
  5. Use a real object as a prop
  6. Use body movement

Speaking coach, Alex Lyon, goes into each tip in more detail in this video:

But remember to always be on your toes. Keeping the door open for feedback invites a slew of personalities. Some will authentically want to know more, while others will nitpick every single detail down to its bones.

7) Always Push Your Branding

As the presenter, you have full control over the information featured in the presentation.

Consider the mindset of your audience.

Do they have the time or interest to sift through dense sheets of financial information? Too much information in a presentation is a mistake many still fall for.

Take matters into your own hands. Carefully handpick the most essential pieces of information and showcase them in interesting ways. This can be done using infographics, charts, or sometimes simply just raw numbers. It’s important that your audience understands what you’re telling them quickly and clearly. Over complicating things by putting in too much information only risks confusing your audience.

Color, imagery, and language are big pieces of your branding. 

Every slide is an opportunity to educate your audience on exactly who you are. 

It’s all about consistency. 

The goal is for your audience to accurately recall the main aspects of your brand. Whether it’s your distinct color scheme, unique design elements, or fresh tone of voice, keep reminding your audience who you are and what makes you different from the rest.  

Here’s a pitch deck we created for NBC Universal that shows consistent branding in action:

8) Keep Data Simple

As the presenter, you have full control over the information featured in the presentation. 

Consider the mindset of your audience. Do they have the time or interest enough to sift through dense sheets of financial information? 

No, they don’t. 

There is such a thing as too much data in a presentation, and it’s a mistake many still make:

Over-complicating things by putting in too much information only risks confusing and alienating your audience, especially when data is important to their job roles.

The trick is to carefully handpick the most essential pieces of information and showcase them in interesting ways. It’s important that your audience is able to understand what you’re telling them quickly and clearly. 

This can be done using infographics, charts, or sometimes simply just the numbers. 

Here’s a revamped, simplified, easier-to-consume version of the above slide:

9) Bring the Energy

Enthusiasm will go a long way, and your audience will gravitate to you for it. 

No one likes having to sit through a presentation by someone who looks like they don’t want to be there. By keeping your energy up, you naturally project a feeling of confidence.  

Eye contact is a simple detail that’s worth remembering because it easily and directly connects you with your audience.

Remember to focus on who you are speaking to, whether it’s a face-to-face meeting with a potential partner or in front of a conference audience.

10) Include a Call to Action to Encourage the Next Step

In the narrative of your presentation, the final slide does not mean the end of the story.

When it’s all said and done, all your cards laid out on the table, you must guide your audience to make the next move. Whether you’re looking to make another sale or pen a new partnership, audiences need to be told explicitly what their next step should be. As the presenter, you can direct your audience where you want them to go.

While it ultimately rests on their shoulders to make decisions, you did your part to enforce your goals for the presentation.

11) Practice…a Lot

While it ultimately rests on their shoulders to make decisions, you need to do your part to enforce your goals for the presentation. After all, “practice makes perfect.”  

Before you even step into the boardroom, you should know your presentation by heart. Rehearsals allow you to iron out any kinks that may affect the quality of your presentation.  

Practicing is a great way to ease the nerves before the big pitch. The constant repetition will prepare you for the mindset you have to be in to deliver a winning presentation. A practiced speech exudes a sense of confidence and expertise that audience will instantly take notice of. It shows that you are a professional who takes their work seriously, making you come off as the ideal business partner.

Ready to take your presentation to the next level? Schedule a free presentation consultation now. Contact us today!