5 Keys to a Killer Presentation

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Oftentimes, I feel a presenter would be better off completely ditching the slide deck and just telling me the story. Bad presentation design (…and presentation delivery…) can be such a distraction — anyone else feel the same way?

Great storytelling is essential for any brand, new or mature. Stories have been around since the beginning of time, and while a lot has changed in our world, the method of storytelling really hasn’t. At the core of human nature is our desire to tell and listen to stories — it’s how we learn, grow and advance.

Brandon Sanderson, an American fantasy and science fiction writer, said,

“The purpose of a storyteller is not to tell you how to think, but to give you questions to think upon.”

Killer presentations have epic storytelling woven throughout them. As a sales and marketing tool, storytelling is a critical component in developing an awesome presentation and good design helps to tell great stories.

We’ve all experienced an inspiring and memorable presentation. However, for every great presentation you’ve witnessed, you’ve undoubtedly had to endure 10X the number of terrible presentations.

Think back to what made those presentations intolerable — I can guarantee they all had some (or all) of these common missteps:

  • The presenter read directly from their slides
  • Clipart from the 1990s
  • Jokes that fell flat
  • Walls of text and/or bullet points
  • A complete lack of preparation

Previously, PowerPoint was one of the only options for creating presentations. Over the last several years, multiple presentation software programs have come to market. New software can be fun and create additional options; however, without solid design principles and a compelling story, software will only take your presentations so far.

A presentation’s purpose is to concisely summarize, support, and reinforce the message the presenter is delivering — it’s not to be treated as a wall of text and bullet points to be read verbatim to the audience. The presentation should not distract the viewer’s attention away from the presenter — it’s a visual aid, not a visual distraction.

While the majority of presentations are done by salespeople, it’s important to remember that everyone in an organization is at some level responsible for sales. When you’re presenting, you’re also a brand ambassador for your company. It’s critical to remember that the way things look conveys just as much to the viewer as what’s being said.

Lean on your brand and marketing teams to help you design your presentations. If you don’t have those teams internally, outsource this work to a professional agency — a poorly designed presentation can hurt you more than no presentation at all.

Before we begin with our tips for building a killer presentation, perhaps the most important tip we can provide is to know your audience. Everything else will be for naught if you don’t tailor your presentation to their unique tastes and expectations. Without further ado, here are our top hacks for an awe-inspiring presentation.

DON’T READ FROM YOUR SLIDES

Raise your right hand and repeat after me, “I will not read directly from my slides.” Good, now that you’ve made that pledge, we can continue. If you read your slides verbatim, not only will you bore your audience to tears, but you’ll also come off as disinterested in your own presentation — this will make your audience disengage and forget your presentation as soon as it’s over, if not sooner.

Many people create presentations to be some sort of standalone document — cramming every bit of information as possible onto a single slide — don’t do this, ever. Your software of choice should assist you in delivering your presentation — it should never be the primary source of information, that’s your job.

KEEP IT SIMPLE

Stick to one main idea per slide and limit yourself to using no more than three to four bullet points per slide. When using bullet points, be sure to only display one bullet point at a time. The audience is going to read the entire slide as soon as it’s displayed. Don’t let your audience skip ahead, make sure they stay with you on the point you’re presently discussing.

Keep in mind, some of the best slides may have no text at all — visually engage your audience. As a general rule of thumb, follow the 5/5/5 rule: no more than five words per line of text, five lines of text per slide, and five text-heavy slides in a row.

SAY NO TO SUPERFLUOUS ANIMATIONS AND TRANSITIONS

Use object builds and slide transitions judiciously. Object builds (animations) should not be animated on every slide for every piece of information or graphic. Some animation is a good thing but stick to the most subtle and professional ones.

A simple “Fade” or “Wipe” is great, but “Curtains,” “Wind” or “Prestige” are too tedious. Stick to a single style of transition effect throughout your presentation, but don’t place transition effects between all slides. If you get an “oooh” or an “ahhhh” because of your slide transition or chart animation, you’re doing it wrong.

CLIP-ART IS SO NINETIES

Use only high-quality graphics and photographs. Never stretch a small or low-resolution photo to make it fit your layout. Don’t use clip art or other cartoon-ish art — the inclusion of such art undermines the professionalism of the presenter and the material being presented — we’ve all seen it, countless times.

The same goofy effects and funny clip art that would entertain a classroom full of middle-school students will make you look unprofessional in front of colleagues and clients. Humor can lift a presentation, but if used inappropriately, your audience will not perceive you as the subject matter expert.

PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE

Most people create their slides then think about what they’re going to say. If you want to tell a compelling story with your presentation you should first write an outline of what you’re wanting to say, then create your slides to help visualize and support that information.

Once you have both of those things completed — practice, then practice again, then practice again. Don’t be that presenter who’s surprised by the next slide in the deck. You’re the authority — own your presentation, don’t let it own you.

A few other design-related items to keep in mind to create a killer presentation:

  • The slides are meant to support the narration of the speaker, not make the speaker expendable
  • Don’t let your message and your ability to tell a story get derailed by slides that are unnecessarily complicated or busy
  • Your slides should have plenty of white space
  • Don’t fill empty areas on your slide with any unnecessary graphics or text that don’t contribute to the audiences’ better understanding of the message you’re trying to convey

It takes work and practice to create and present a killer presentation. Waiting until the night before the big event won’t cut it. By focusing on some of these key areas and concepts, you can ensure your presentation will be memorable and not a monotonous slide deck that lulls the audience to sleep.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Chris Skaggs is the co-founder of BODDHI Branding, a creative agency with a vision to authentically and creatively construct stories to help your brand grow. Digital and social media, branding, recruitment and content strategy are all functions Chris has developed building teams, processes and strategies from the ground-up. Dedicated to giving back Chris also co-founded Leighton’s Gift, a non-profit with a mission of turning a tragedy into something positive. He also serves on the boards of a variety of different organizations. A natural storyteller, Chris’ work and experiences have been featured on CNN, Marketing Sherpa, Thrive Global, CBS Radio, Recruiter.com and Glassdoor. Get connected online, @chrislskaggs.

Dad • Storyteller • Brand Builder ∙ Nonprofit Leader • Co-founder of #BODDHIbranding and #LeightonsGift • Head of Brand #TSProckstars

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