Five insanely simple ideas to make your next presentation sizzle

PowerPoint presentation tips

By {grow} Community Member Jon Thomas

Creating effective PowerPoint presentations is a skill that is rarely ever taught, but somehow we’re all expected to create dazzling presentations. Though, as we all know, it rarely ever dazzles. It usually fizzles.

I’m kind of a presentation geek and I’ve found that there are far more effective ways to utilize PowerPoint as a visual backdrop to your story.

It’s not even the only game in town anymore. Apple’s Keynote has earned staunch support from the design community. Tools like Prezi have re-imagined what a presentation should look like, and online software like Sliderocket and Slideshare have allowed us to collaborate and share presentations virtually. The idea of what a presentation “is” is being reinvented over and over again as new technologies emerge.

So what’s a novice presentation designer to do? First, don’t lose hope. The advantage we all have is that we’re still in the first leg of this race. Presentation designers have emerged to help companies take off like Usain Bolt, but you can still get a leg up on the rest of your competitors who are still in the starting blocks. Here are five simple PowerPoint presentation tips that sizzle.

  1. What’s your story?
    In order to create and deliver an effective presentation, it has to be based in narrative. That’s the only way your audience will listen and remember what you’re trying to tell them. It’s the Free-Time Paradox: We don’t have 30 seconds anymore to listen to a sales pitch (DVRs are a blessing), but we have 30 minutes to hear a great story. Find the story at the heart of your presentation by answering questions like, “What are your audience’s needs? What do they care about? What problems are keeping them up at night? How will your product or service make their lives better?”
  2. Focus on One Idea
    Whether you admit it or not, you’re lucky if your audience walks away from your presentation remembering one idea you presented. It’s just the reality of presenting. So if your audience will walk away remembering one thing, what would that be? Find that one idea – that one reason you’re standing up there presenting – and make sure every bit of content in your presentation revolves around that idea. If it doesn’t, you have to scrap it. “Kill your darlings” as the saying goes.
  3. Shatter Your Template
    PowerPoint templates are inherently constricting and the majority of them are terrible. Most businesses require their employees to create presentations within a template, which is fine, but if the templates don’t give a wide variety of slide options, the employee designing the presentation will feel inhibited. If you have the freedom to ditch the template, do it. If you can’t, see how far you can take it. Can you use full-bleed images? Does the logo have to be on every slide?
  4. Images, Images, Images
    What once was revolutionary only five years ago is now old hat, but it’s a very important hat. Utilizing effective, vibrant images brings your presentation to life and provides a visual cue that your audience’s brain can attach to your message, and that’s very important. Dr. John Medina, author of Brain Rules (a fantastic book), states that, “Vision trumps all other senses.” According to Dr. Medina, vision is by far our most dominant sense, utilizing half our brain’s resources, and adding an image to a text-based message can increase recall by 55%. Use tools like Compfight to find free images that you can use to express your ideas.
  5. Give Your Ideas Room to Breathe
    One common mistake most people make when designing PowerPoint presentations is combining multiple ideas onto one slide. However, the audience can only retain so much information at once, and when multiple ideas are delivered on one slide (often in bullet-point format), there’s little to no opportunity to allow the audience to attach a visual cue to each idea. Thus, they are all grouped together and the opportunity for the audience to recall any of those ideas is drastically reduced. Instead, break each important idea onto multiple slides and find supporting imagery for each of them (and don’t worry about how many additional slides this creates– there’s no difference between spending two minutes on one slide or 30 seconds on each of four slides).Your idea and its supporting points are like characters in a Broadway play. You rarely remember the ones who are part of the ensemble, but the ones who get the spotlight are unforgettable. Allow each point within your presentation its own time to shine in the spotlight. This allows you to use supporting imagery for each point, subsequently allowing your audience to remember each idea more clearly.

Creating an effective presentation, particularly when using PowerPoint, is far more than just knowing how to import images and resize fonts. But you don’t have to be Steve Jobs to deliver an inspiring presentation. If you follow these five tips, you’ll launch out of that starting block and be well on your way to creating dynamic presentations that resonate with audiences for days, weeks, months, or even years to come.

Jon Thomas is Communications Director for Story Worldwide and a curator of the Post-Advertising Summit.


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  • You know, I really wish they taught this stuff in school. I had to make so many powerpoints for various music classes in college and I had no idea how to do it effectively. Neither did my classmates, which is why they would just copy and paste their entire talk and read from each slide. Boring. Frustrating.

    Anyhoo, I’m confident that if/when I need to create a powerpoint, I will be able to do it SO much more effectively. 

    Thanks for a great post!

  • Great stuff, and I would like to have one even more simple trick which works with Powerpoint, Keynote, Prezi and every other slideware programme:

    Switch. It. Off.

    Turning off the projector and just talking to the audience is often enough to make you stand out these days – and in my experience audiences are often hugely grateful. Just saying “I don’t use slideware” often gets me a warm round of applause – and a big boost in attention levels.

    When we think of a presentation, we think of software. Why? The best presenters have never needed it – and nine times out of ten, neither do we.



  • Bingo with the suggestion. Offer them the slides to review later. This reinforces the content as they get to consider the facts or pertinent info’ in a reflective mode. Always present like Shakespeare, keep them focused on you, let the backdrop be that and no more. 

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  • Same at my university (in the Communications department even). I think I had 5 to 10 sessions of the same “How to find information in the library” but nothing about how to do an effective presentation, even from the profs that assigned presentations so we could learn how to, well, present.

  •  I have to say, there is so much more they don’t teach you in university that I wish they did…like how to get a job!

  • Thank you for reinforcing the idea of “please make your presentation more interesting so your audience doesn’t die of boredom.” People are so afraid of not listing every word they’re going to say on the slide. Your laziness will only irritate and bore your audience!

    Love Adam’s suggestion too. Just talk to people! Or, sing a song – I apologize for the self-promotion but – see how Swanee Hunt talked about how much more powerful Elie Wiesel was when he sang a song to his audience instead of lecturing. What was also great was that she inspired the other speakers at the Communications Network conference to each sing a little song! See how I still remember that from six months ago.

  • All great pointers – I’m sure you’ve seen your share (as I have) of presentations with just too much information on a single slide… The presenter just doesn’t seem to realize the people in the back of the room can’t see as well as the people in the front of the room.

  • “Shatter your template” – love that. I never could imagine how anyone can use those templates anyway. Not only a simple slide can increase memorability, it allows the audience to focus on you, instead of trying to make sense out of 324152 words on the slide. 

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  • What a really fresh article. It makes me want to uninstall PPT from my machine! I just want to know where all those great fonts came from. I know what I want to say, but have a really difficult time enriching my work with the correct font family. Any help is appreciated! Again, very nice article.

  • Good advice, I like it. One story, keep your focus, one idea at a time, brilliant.

    I am on the fence regarding shattering the templates and the use of images.

    While the traditional poor Powerpoint (the ones with so much text you can barely read it) is still living a strong and healthy life, I believe it is also possible to go overboard the other way as well.

    I have seen a number of presentations where I have no idea how the imagery is connected to the story, and also ones where the imagery themes change so wildly it is difficult to comprehend how they are part of a single story. I am not talking about overall amateurish presentations either, some of these were clearly crafted with good graphical design, at least on the level of individual slides.

    In this sense, shattering the template can also have the undesired effect of undermining the focus of the presentation.

  • This is a great point.

    Now that I think of it, I might need to try that style sometime.

    The problem is, I don’t feel I have enough time to practice to make it perfect without slides. I use rather simple slides with only a little text, but they are important to me, because they help me focus on the story arc and time management.

    How do you manage the length of your presentations, and how much do you practice to give a presentation without slides?

    There is also one situation where I would prefer slides in almost all cases: giving a speech to people in some other than their native language. In these cases, the slides help the audience by giving them context, which in turn aids hearing comprehension.

  • One of my favorite presentations on presentations is Jesse Desjardins “You Suck at PowerPoint.” Give it a look.

  • I like this idea Adam – Today I did 3 presentations. The first one was without my standard presentation – great engagement and follow up questions. The second preso was with a Prezi – I got the message delivered, but with less engagement and minimal follow up questions. The last preso was again without my standard presentation – Tons of engagement and post event questions & thanks. Sometimes a great conversation trumps a good presentation.

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