Do you have a public speaking event or work pitch to prepare for? Are you stressing about putting together an engaging enough PowerPoint presentation to make a good impression?
Don’t worry – we’ve got you covered.
These three simple steps will help you optimize your storytelling skills so your presentation will live on in the minds of your audience – long after you’ve left the room. While PowerPoints are all about the visuals, you have to focus on your story, and how you are telling it, if you’re looking to create an engaging presentation that will keep people interested from start to finish.
Before you start creating your powerpoint presentation, you need to know what you’re going to talk about, and how you are going to structure it. Pick a good topic that you know about, and something that you know others will want to hear. Then, reveal your information and structure your presentation like a story.
Writing your presentation from the angle of a storyteller is what is going to help engage your listeners from beginning to the end (because it won’t feel like you are just relaying facts and information). Rather, you’ll be taking them on a journey with you to teach them what you know.
Here’s how you can get started:
Arguably, the most important part of your talk is your introduction speech. How you start your presentation and what you put on your introduction slide is going to determine how interested your audience will be throughout the rest of your presentation. After all, your first words immediately introduce your audience to who you are and what your style is – and it sets the tone going forward. It’s the point where audiences will choose to tune in or tune out.
A solid hook instantly makes a commitment to your audience that what you have to say is going to be interesting, and it keeps them wanting more. It helps you stand out as a speaker.
So, focus on creating an attention-grabbing introduction, just like you would find in the first page of a book or the opening scene of a movie. Consider starting with:
Depending on the environment, goal, and subject of your talk, you might do a poll and ask people to raise their hands or stand up. You might put something interesting under their chairs or on the tables in front of them, and ask them to engage with it.
Pulling on that human connection and encouraging active participation with your audience is an amazing way to come off as confident and experienced. Don’t forget to bring people into the world you’re about to explore. It’s been proven that people learn and receive information better when they feel involved and are actively participating, rather than feeling like viewers doomed to sit through, yet again, another boring powerpoint presentation.
As inaccurate as it might be, people do make assumptions. People will continue to make decisions based on first impressions – so make that first impression count.
Famous Hollywood director, JJ Abrams (creator of Lost and director of the most recent Star Wars films) gave his own TedTalk presentation about storytelling that was based around a “mystery box” that he got from a magic store when he was a kid.
It was a sealed box with a question mark printed on it. There was no indication of what was inside when he bought it – and even as an adult with kids of his own now, he still doesn’t know. It remains sealed to this day. Never opening it and admiring the mystery within this box is what inspired him to go on and create so many successful, enticing stories. Because he focused on always creating an element of mystery in his stories.
Your PowerPoint presentation is your story, so build it like a mystery box.
People love solving mysteries – we’re always looking to uncover things and make sense of the world around us. So, if you introduce a mystery to your audience at the beginning of a story, it can be a great way to get people to stick around until the end.
You could try asking a question, and refusing to answer it until the end. Allude to something intriguing, but don’t give it away. Try thinking of creative ways that make sense for your specific presentation, where you can keep the mystery alive – and, ultimately, keep your audience engaged.
If you want to know how to end a presentation – it’s all about making yourself memorable and bringing your point to a strong close. In order to do this, you have to wrap up loose ends like any other story arc, and find some way of continuing the conversation beyond your PowerPoint. How can you leave a long lasting impression, and let people get the most out of your presentation? This is why you should always leave a call-to-action (CTA).
Your CTA and ending will depend on what your goals are as a presenter. You might want to encourage discussion around a topic – so it might be good to end by asking a question and leaving the floor open for answers. If you want readers to do something, give them actionable steps they can take today or provide them with resources and encourage them by telling them why doing this work is necessary. Start a discussion or help them act in some way, and try to leave room for questions.
Whatever it is you are hoping to get from this talk, make sure you are clear on it – and then end your presentation accordingly.
Now that you have your story, it’s time to start building a visually effective powerpoint to go along with it. The first step in creating your presentation is to pick a theme – this is what will make each and every slide of your presentation feel cohesive, and give the entire slide deck a natural flow.
Each slide should have variation for visual interest, but should also incorporate the same, main design. This makes it easier for your audience to follow along, and feel as though you are taking them through a journey. They will feel like they can keep up and won’t be overwhelmed and confused by too many different styles, tones, and mixed brand messages. Use variation as a tool, but be mindful not to overdo it.
Picking a PowerPoint template can be as easy as using a free one in the PowerPoint library, purchasing one, or even creating your own. When preparing themes, try and customize the look as much as possible to fit your brand. It’s a simple but effective way of making yourself look more professional and dedicated and it helps you stand out.
You can create your own themes in Photoshop or in free design software like Canva – and then import them into PowerPoint. Or, you can purchase a stock one online from Etsy, Envato Elements, or any other online store.
Whatever route you take when choosing a powerpoint theme, make sure it is functional, on brand, clean-looking, and not too distracting. The most important part is that your theme reflects the story you are trying to tell.
When crafting your PowerPoint presentation and organizing how you will display your information on your slides, remember to focus more on visuals, and less on text.
Trying to talk while showing a wall of text at the same time is ineffective in many ways. When people see text, they naturally start to read it. And when people start to read your slides, it takes away from the story you’re trying to tell. Audiences will focus on what’s written rather than what’s being said, and they might even try to write down what’s on your slides.
Both of these things draw too much time and attention away from you, as the person behind the presentation that will help them connect to the story and make a lasting impression. It reduces your impact and it forces audiences into playing a game of “catch-up.”
Some best practices that are recommended are not to stray beyond 6-8 lines of text, or 30 words, per slide. Keep the font no smaller than 24 pts. You could also use the old-school “Twitter rule” of using no more than 140 characters on a slide. But remember: the best results often come from using the least amount of words possible – challenge yourself to only focus on placing keywords or terms that you really want to emphasize.
And for the rest, use your voice.
PowerPoint templates can be relatively simple, and the options for shapes and designs on PowerPoint aren’t plentiful -–they are not customized to your specific brand or the story you are trying to tell.
If you are going to be referring a lot to your slides throughout your presentation, sharing graphics or interesting designs to display information, consider creating some custom design elements and shapes. You can either get creative and combine shapes in PowerPoint to create a new design or shape, or use an external resource.
Make some interesting customized infographics or designs to spice up the visuals of your presentation and make you stand out. Sometimes, adding personal touches like this can really help emphasize what you’re trying to teach, and make you look committed and consistent in your branding overall.
Varying up the kind of media on your slides can also help make a more engaging PowerPoint presentation – when done tastefully. While you should use images and designs and infographics, try also using videos, sound effects, or subtle animations to see if it adds more visual interest to your static slides.
These tools can be very effective in making you stand out as a presenter, but remember to use them sparingly. Make sure they support your message and aren’t distracting from it.
Using mixed media is not a way to make your presentation better. It shouldn’t be used to try and hide the fact that your story isn’t strong or that you lack presence on stage. It’s supposed to elevate your already stunning performance; it’s supposed to enhance your audience’s experience, and capture their eye to draw them deeper into what you’re already saying.
When it comes to everything about your presentation – the text, images, videos, slides, design, and even your story – the most important thing you can do is to keep it simple. Don’t make elaborate designs all piled onto one slide as this will overwhelm and confuse people. Don’t take too many approaches and angles to your story, just pick one. Don’t make your slides squished to the edges with text so people get overloaded with information and can’t read, and don’t throw too many numbers or complicated statements at your audience.
Remember: your listeners are human.
People can only take in so much information at a time before they start to get lost. Keep this in mind, and keep things simple. Focus on your story, and focus on the goal of your presentation before anything else.
Above all: remember that your PowerPoint slides are not your presentation. It’s a supplement to your presentation. Relying on your PowerPoint too much will only make you appear less confident and less prepared, and in order to make a lasting impression, you need to be both of these things. You should speak more than your slides, as they are only a simple crutch.
Your powerpoint doesn’t tell the story – you do.
Once you’ve finished crafting your PowerPoint presentation, now it’s time to prepare how you are going to present with your slides. Here’s some beginner tips on how to deliver an epic presentation and get the most out of your slide deck:
You should always know your audience. Know their mindset and know what they are going to be looking for from you. You should know what they expect, and how they see you – even before they’ve met you.
Part of this preparation process is doing proper research. Research all there is to know about who you will be talking to, and what the best way is for you to speak to them, and design your slides. What language is best to use? How can your structure fit their optimal learning style?
If your audience is elderly, you might want to focus on visibility and simplicity even more. If it’s younger people, maybe focus on using references, mixed media, or trending elements to help your speech resonate with them. Doing this will help you relate better with your audience, create an emotional connection, and encourage them to stay engaged as you go through your presentation.
You must practice before you present. Even the most experienced speakers out there practice their presentations. Know your script and everything down to a tee – this way you can improvise if needed, and you can pivot if things go wrong. Another great tip is to try rehearsing your PowerPoint presentation in front of some family members, friends, or peers.
Having real people to interact with as you run through your speech can considerably help your confidence and your personality when you actually get up in front of a crowd – especially if you’re less experienced. Practice making eye contact with your audience and get used to ignoring distractions or movements from your audience.
Ask them for feedback: what did they think of the presentation? What could be improved? What was good? Did your slides take away from your message or distract them? What would have been a more useful way of using your PowerPoint slides?
Not only this, but practicing with an audience helps you get used to being under pressure. Take Susan Cain’s advice, an author who delivered a presentation that gained over 24 million views.
By practicing your presentation under similar circumstances and with higher stakes involved, you will be more familiar with the feeling of being under pressure, and will be less likely to choke on the big day. Or, you’ll discover where you struggle and where you might choke, and can therefore prepare some tactics in advance to help avoid it.
Another great tip when practicing is to record yourself. See how you will appear to your audience – are your slides distracting, even to you? Are you referencing them or looking at them too much? Look at your natural movements, vocal quality and tendencies, and try to modify them before the real thing.
If you want to stand out and really engage your audience, focus on making your presentation into a conversation. Focus on natural flow, and be prepared for people to ask questions or steer your conversation elsewhere.
As you talk, don’t focus on your slides too much, focus on your story and be intuitive to how your audience is responding. You want your audience to feel like they are part of this journey you are bringing them on, and, sometimes, being too strict or formal in your presentation can take them away from that.
Be personable. Read your audience and adjust. Skip over some slides if you think they’re going to slow down the pace too much. In other words: read the room, and listen. It’s all about being ready to adapt to your audience’s needs. And while this takes practice, it is sure to help people remember you and make your story even more impactful.
No one likes to watch a brick wall deliver a speech.
Be natural and allow yourself the opportunity to move around. Use your slides to your advantage and point at important keywords or images, walk around the stage – use gestures. Not only will this feel more engaging and emphasize important points to make your story stronger, but it makes your speech come across as natural and professional.
Specifically when pointing at slides, make sure that you use it as a way to explain and help people understand what you’re sharing. This can be a great asset to bring relevance to your PowerPoint presentation, and help deepen and clarify your audience’s understanding of what you’re trying to say. With that said, don’t just use it as a way to get attention off of yourself – and the same goes for any movements or gestures. They should be done mindfully, and not out of nervousness or desperateness.
When using visual presentations, timing is key. The way that you talk and how your slides appear, with what information, when, can significantly impact your effectiveness as a speaker.
You can create some really powerful effects by timing a slide to pop up right when you speak specific words, or make specific references. Pauses in between slides as you try and use the clicker, or scattering because you forgot to change the slide and went too far ahead, is what diverts people’s attention and makes you look unprofessional.
This is where preparation comes in. Preplan how you are going to time your slides with what you are saying.
Go a step further and plan some bold visuals that you are going to time with certain strong points you want to make – this is what can create an experience, and tell your story in a compelling way. It can make the difference between an extremely effective talk where your PowerPoint is an asset, versus a mediocre talk with an unnecessary slide deck.
Do some research. Watch some famous speakers present, and note how they use their PowerPoints or slide decks. Watching other successful presenters and seeing what they do, how they craft their PowerPoint or Google slides presentation – or whether they even have one at all – can help inspire you to find different ways of approaching your presentation. Watch how their audience responds to their storytelling and learn from them.
After all, learning from others is one of the best ways to improve.
Sometimes, presentations can be riddled with anxiety and self-doubt. You might even start to experience a bit of imposter syndrome as you’re putting together your powerpoint presentation – but that’s all very normal.
What’s important (and what is also great about PowerPoints) is that the slides are simply a guide – for your audience, but also for you. Having a PowerPoint means you always have a reference, should you get nervous. It can help remind you of where you are in your story, and help you gain the confidence to keep going.
Because as long as you focus on approaching your talk as exactly that, a story, you’re going to have all that you need to make a powerful PowerPoint presentation that will last in your audience’s mind, long after you leave the stage.
Check out Nuseir’s Yassin’s “Art Of Storytelling“ course and learn how you can effectively share your story with your audience.
In this course, Nuseir will share his trade secrets with you on how to organize your information and tell stories in compelling, accessible ways that will leave an impression on everyone who hears it.
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