I’ve sat through, as I’m sure not a few of you have, many maddening hours of reading PowerPoint presentations while ignoring the presenter. My own experience included walking a disinterested audience through a mandatory corporate template. This meant that my 0nce a month fifteen-minute opportunity in front of the company decision makers was limited to running through the required metrics and graphics before I got to the interesting stuff.
What’s Your Point?
This seems obvious, but too often presenters don’t actually talk to their audience. We turn our back on them and talk to the slides. We read them through our entire though process, justifications, side-trips, and dead-ends before getting t to our point. Some presenters don’t event get there. Instead they bury us in data but don’t give us any information.
If you’re in front of influencers and decision makers, make it easy for them. Give them the headline, tell them what you’re going to tell them. Don’t bury your recommendation / conclusion / call-to-action and expect them to figure it out. That’s why you’re presenting – to do the thinking for them, so they don’t have to. If they have to do all the thinking, then what do they need you for?
Talk to the Audience, Not the Slides
People can read. They don’t need you to do it for them. Reading from the slides gives the slides the focus. Maybe this is more comfortable than having a room full of strangers staring at you, but it betrays a lack of confidence, or sends the subtle message that you don’t care about them, or both.
PowerPoint has an outlining function, which is a great way to create a presentation. The trap many fall into is then putting it all the words up on the screen and then reading from it.
Move text to the ‘notes’ section and refer to your printed copy if you have to. Leave the main points of your persuasive arguments and conclusion. You should know the details well enough to only need to refer to it to get back on track.
Turn and face your audience. Speak directly to them. Pick a few people in the room and make eye contact with them in turn. If it’s a large audience, this is different people from different parts of the room. If there are decision makers or people you’ve chosen to build a relationship with are present, choose them.
Use Pictures and Stories
Human being are amazingly emotional and visual creatures. If your intent is to persuade and convince, use pictures. Then tell stories about those pictures. This isn’t always proper, but use it when you can. People don’t make decisions or get moved to action because of facts and figures. They do those things when you move them by your vision. The facts and figures will help support and rationalize that decision later.
For example, when working with a new client, they’ll tell me that they want to hit a certain revenue or profit target. Often stated in terms of percentage growth or EBITDA. Which is great. You need to have concrete, testable goals. The more interesting story, and the one that should come first, is “What is that money going to allow us to do?” Growth and profit is never an end to itself, it is a means to something else. Whether it’s security, or winning, or being the best at a particular thing – whatever that means for you – is the more inspirational vision.
Know what your point is and make it, talk to your audience no matter how big or small, and inspire to convince.