Being able to create good presentations is a valuable skill for many leadership roles. It’s very common for leaders to need to present information to their teams, interested stakeholders or to senior management.
If you can communicate your message well, you’ll have a much better chance of getting people on your side, engaging an audience or convincing them that your idea is the best!
I learned an awful lot about creating good presentations in my time as a management consultant. As you probably know, consultants often use tools like Powerpoint as their communication method of choice. During my consulting years, I spent many hours hunched over my laptop screen creating presentations for various audiences.
In this post, I’d like to pass on some of my tips for creating good presentations. I won’t be talking about specific tools here or about public speaking.
Instead, I want to cover some of the key aspects you should consider when crafting your presentation, so that you can get the results you need.
Critical Aspects to Consider for Your Next Presentation
Creating a good presentation isn’t all about the colours or format (although this can make a difference!). Good presentations have a defined purpose, target the right audience, tell a story and present the information in the right way.
Let’s look at these factors now, to help make your next presentation a raging success.
1. Good Presentations Have a Clear Purpose
Good presentations have a clearly defined purpose.
In general, a presentation is designed to either raise awareness or educate people about a topic, to provide entertainment (though not so common in the working world), to help someone make a decision or to convince people about an idea.
When you know the purpose for your presentation, you can ask yourself whether the information you are including the right fit.
“Is this information helping my audience to <insert your purpose here>?”
For example, if the purpose of your presentation is to raise awareness about a topic, you probably don’t need to include very low-level detail. More general information is probably better when you’re just introducing people to a subject.
2. Good Presentations Have a Defined Target Audience
When creating your presentation, you need to know who you’re making it for. When combined with the purpose above, this is a powerful way to tailor your content.
If your audience doesn’t know anything about your topic, leave out the finer details and start high-level. When you’re dealing with a group of experts, they are going to crave the next level of information.
Defining your audience is very useful because it helps you to get inside their head. If you’re presenting to a group of board members, what would they want to know? What about a group of front-line hospital workers? Or your boss? Is your audience likely to be hostile, friendly or indifferent?
When you have a defined audience, you can tailor the content to their level and think about the “what’s in it for me?”. This can vary dramatically when presenting the same topic to a different audience.
Different audiences, different needs
Let’s say you’re doing a presentation on changing the staff shift patterns at your hospital, to improve efficiency.
Your senior management team are probably going to want to know how much money you will save, and whether there is any increased risk to hospital patients. They will also want to know the impact that the changes have on the staff.
If you’re presenting on a similar theme to hospital shift workers, they are going to want to know how many shifts and hours they will receive and if their jobs are at risk. However, they will probably also want to know whether their patients are going to be put at risk because they might be understaffed.
Being conscious of your purpose helps you to choose the right topics, and address them sensitively. It also helps you to add content that will address common questions that your audience might have.
3. Good Presentations Tell a Story
You’ve probably sat through a presentation and wondered, “Where is this going?” or “Why am I here?”. We want to avoid this at all costs!
You’ve already refined your content for your purpose and audience. So now, it’s about presenting information in the right order.
The key parts you need to consider when thinking about the order are:
- The “Why”: Why are you telling people about this? Why should they care?
- Purpose: What do you want your audience to do? What do you need them to walk away with after your presentation?
- Context: To understand what you’re trying to say, often some background is helpful. This might mean talking about important events that have occurred up to his point.
- Substance: This is the key information to fulfil the purpose of the presentation. It might be statistics to help make a decision, or information to raise awareness.
- Conclusion: This is often a summary of the key takeaways, or the “next steps” that follow this presentation.
Storyboarding can help you define your presentation, before you create it
Storyboarding is a great, simple way to lay out your presentation before you create any content. I do this by simply using a piece of paper and drawing a box for each slide.
Then I’ll write down what each box contains using just a few words. You might use “Intro”, “Key statistics” or similar information. Basically, you are laying out the order of what you will present.
When the presentation is laid out in this manner, it’s easy to tell if it tells a story, or if something is out of place. As usual, it is very useful to start with “why” so people know what they are there for!
A common sequence for a presentation could be:
Purpose (Why) – Background (Context) – Substance – Summary – Next Steps.
When you’re storyboarding your presentation you can break this up into more detail. Once you have the slides mapped out, you can assess them to make sure they reinforce your purpose, meet the needs of the audience and tell the right story.
4. Good Presentations Show Information In the Right Way
Now that you know your purpose, the audience and the flow of your presentation, it’s time to start creating the content.
Here are some simple principles I like to follow when creating my presentations.
Less is more
Avoid putting too much text on a slide, unless you are sending the material for people to read. Some presentations are made for reading as well as speaking, and finding the right balance can get tricky.
In this case, ideally you would have one format for people to read like a report, and another cut-down version that you could speak in front of.
If you are presenting to an audience, you want to avoid loads of text. When there is too much information, people don’t listen to you, they read it from the slides. You might be tempted to read it yourself instead of engaging properly with your audience!
If you only have small amounts of text, you will be forced to understand the material so you can speak to it, instead of just reading it. This is a good thing!
You should also aim for just enough content. Cut down the slides enough just to tell your story, and no more. You can always send more information later if people want it. Leaders who include too much content run the risk of boring their audience or diluting the message.
Mix it up
A presentation that is only text can get boring. All images can get a little stale too. So why not mix it up?
A combination of text and graphics caters for both the visual learners and those who like words. Use a variety of both and you’re probably on the right track.
Go easy on the animations
Animations get really annoying after a while. The spinning, blurring, bouncing, sliding shapes… it seems cool at first. But it soon becomes a gimmick.
Use animations when it makes sense to reinforce the flow of your presentation. For example, hiding something until you are ready to talk about it.
If you reveal all your content at the start, sometimes your audience might “run ahead” and stop listening to you.
Gradually revealing your content as you talk can help you to captivate your audience. But try to use simple animations to do this… and avoid the gimmicks!
Standardise the styles
Mixing up the type of content you use is good, but not when it comes to styles. It’s best to use standard colours, fonts and a few standard layouts throughout your entire presentation.
This is often achieved with standard template themes, which your organisation has probably created already. Use these and try not to deviate too much. It can become distracting for your audience.
You want to focus the audience on your key message, not on the dazzling variety of font or colour choices!
Presentations are a great way to gain respect, credibility and to communicate key information. Bad presentations are a way to ruin your reputation!
Communication and leadership go hand in hand. Be sure to define your purpose and audience, tell a story and present your information in the right way and people will see you as a great communicator in your workplace.