Five steps to improve your presentations today

There are three key things for a great and effective presentation: content, presentation, and delivery; to improve your presentations you must work on all three. In this post, however, I will focus on content and presentation.

First, let me clarify what I mean by presentation and how it is different from content. The content of a presentation are your talking points, your punchlines, and your stories. For a great presentation, even before you open up your slideware, you must prepare your content. The “presentation” part of the presentation is where you exhibit your points using images, text or videos.

All right. Let’s get to it then and see these five steps to improve your presentations:

Use better titles:

Think about the titles as Amazon product thumbnails. You have less than 10 seconds to catch attention of your readers and make them read further about your presentation. Another important benefit of using better titles is you will be forced to think about the whole talk and provide a one-liner gist of it. In his bestselling book The Confessions of a Public Speaker, Scott Berkun talks about this process. If you give your presentation the same old, boring title like “presentations 101”, it is very likely that your presentation is not focused, whereas if you give your presentation a title like “Three ways to improve your presentations”, you give it a focus and stimulate curiosity of your readers.

Create storyboards:

This is perhaps the best part of creating a presentation as you use your creativity to come up with a lot of ideas. Take a blank piece of paper and write down as many ideas as possible without judging them. Take a break, and then come back to these ideas. On another blank sheet of paper, draw a big circle and write your central theme or one core point you want to make. Try to cluster the ideas that you generated previously and connect them to your central point. (This process is also known as mind mapping.) After this, either draw small boxes on another paper or take a print of blank notes pages with six or more slides from PowerPoint. In these boxes, fit your content ideas. One idea per box. There’s your storyboard. Both Garr Reynold‘s Presentation Zen and Nancy Duarte‘s Resonate books talk about storyboards.

Create a flow:

Copy your storyboard in PowerPoint as is. Then use the “Slide Sorter” view to organize your ideas so as to generate a natural flow amongst your ideas. Think about the highs and lows of your points. You want to build the right momentum. It doesn’t have to be all going up; you may choose to bring the momentum down for a minute or two and then speed it up again. Spend a lot of time in the “slide sorter” view. Here, you can delete some ideas that do not support your main idea or that are out of scope. Edit wisely. Resist your urge to cram a lot of material. Focus and clarity are more important than 100s of brilliant ideas.

Tell a good story:

The formula, as given in the book Storycraft, for a good story is simple: context, complication/action and resolution. For presentations, you open your presentation by asking a stimulating question or sharing an experience about your topic that creates the context. Next, you tell the audience some problems about your topic. Then, you slowly unfold and provide resolutions on those problems. You can keep keep presenting complications and resolutions to keep the interest heightened, but for better focus, stick to select problems and present their resolutions. Finally, you wrap by repeating (not repeating your words) your story and your message. Your presentation should be like a movie or a book: it must have a point and that point must be clearly explained via a story.

Build your slides (if you must):

Slides are unnecessary if you have your points and story clear in your head and you are able to explain those to others well. Slides do divert attention of your audience. (Plus, I hate that the conference organizers ask you to put their brand on your slides. Hello! Attendees already know which conference they are attending , which dates they are attending, and where they are attending. If they don’t, organizers should check such people first) I will admit: slides aid you and provide backup. You can make a point using images or videos, but your words are what the audience cares about. Garr Reynold‘s Presentation Zen provides a lot of good advice on how to create your slides; he also provided a lot of image sources on his site. One technique I started using in my slides is of the “rule of the thirds.” You divide your slide in nine equal boxes and put the main text or main character of your image on one of the intersections of those boxes. I have used these instructions to create the guides in PowerPoint. Limit your slides to one image and/or one short phrase or a word. Of course, don’t put images that have nothing to do with your point.

That’s it, folks! If you start following at least these steps, you will improve your presentations remarkably and you will be ahead of many other presenters. It does take a lot of time and thinking to go through this process, but as Scott Berkun, says you must think about the total time your audience will spend by attending. Spend at least half of that total time and give them a good show.

About the Author

A co-author of Data Science for Fundraising, an award winning keynote speaker, Ashutosh R. Nandeshwar is one of the few analytics professionals in the higher education industry who has developed analytical solutions for all stages of the student life cycle (from recruitment to giving). He enjoys speaking about the power of data, as well as ranting about data professionals who chase after “interesting” things. He earned his PhD/MS from West Virginia University and his BEng from Nagpur University, all in industrial engineering. Currently, he is leading the data science, reporting, and prospect development efforts at the University of Southern California.