Over the last few years, we’ve seen the concept of a presentation change from slides with a high-word density that are read verbatim, to an engaging, funny and enlightening presentation that get us to think and take action.
Organizations like TED, which have helped to create and perpetuate this movement, to Nancy Duarte, who writes and speaks about the importance of slide design, are changing the way we think about a presentation.
The problem is that very few of us are born communicators. It’s difficult for us to get in front of an audience and present an idea to the point that we motivate and elicit action, let alone design a script and slides to help reinforce the concept. It requires someone who is dynamic, who can generate and articulate their ideas in ways that translate, a beautifully crafted presentation that demonstrates quality and level of effort, and a clear call to action to the participant. Thankfully, these are all skills that can be learned.
The Makeup of an Engaging Presentation
As mentioned above, there are four major components to an engaging presentation. Let’s take a second to dig into each one individually.
We’ve all been a part of meetings or presentations where the speaker is monotone, has poor body language and doesn’t seem to do anything to capture your attention. These types of speakers rarely get their ideas communicated in such a way that elicits action, and it doesn’t leave the audience begging for more.
In my evaluation of dynamic speakers (very unscientific), I’ve noticed the following traits. They are passionate about the topic; they use word choice carefully to communicate their ideas, use voice inflection and pauses as a way to emphasize a point and engage the audience.
Dynamic in this sense doesn’t necessarily mean charismatic. I don’t believe that everyone should be as exciting a speaker as Tony Robbins. There are plenty of dynamic speakers who can motivate and elicit a response, but who have a quiet, soft-spoken, and mild-mannered demeanor. Dynamic speakers know their audience, are incredibly knowledgeable about their topic and can adapt while connecting with the audience on a personal level.
Ideas That Translate
Ideas are hard to communicate because they are just that, ideas. Abstract and complex. The most challenging part of explaining the idea is honing in on the particular points of the presentation and how to translate those talking points..
Let’s use a documentary movie as an example. In essence, a documentary is a recorded presentation. I’ve seen some documentaries that don’t move the needle for me. They are poorly shot, have an unbalanced script and are poorly narrated. Even if I was interested in the topic, I sometimes find myself shutting the film off.
On the flip side, I’ve seen documentaries with a well-crafted script, excellently narrated, is beautifully shot, and has a clear call to action. By the end of these films, I do not only wish that it wasn’t over, but I’m ready to take action!
When an idea is well communicated through a presentation, it should create a reaction that pushes participants to take action.
Beautifully Crafted Presentation
PowerPoint is a dirty word in some circles. When most of us think of PowerPoint, we think of text-heavy slides and lots of bullet points! This type of presentation style is still very much alive, but the most potent presentations take a different approach. Slides are used to reinforce the idea and elicit an emotional response from the audience.
No one gets excited about a block of text. The Notes section of PowerPoint is there for a reason. It’s where your script and other notes go. The slide itself is meant to be a point of reference.
Over the last few years, I’ve put my creative hat on and have come to appreciate well-designed slides. While color and style are important, one of my favorite design elements, which doesn’t get much attention is typeface. The font style used to communicate your ideas matter. What’s more, a font can be used to help convey your idea much like an image does. However, most individuals stick to a stock template with the stock images and typefaces.
I don’t start in PowerPoint or Google Slides. Instead, slides are where I finish and where the final product ends up. Instead, I build my presentation in an image editor – outside of these tools. This presentation, for example, was created using a tool called Canva.com. The slides were crafted in Canva, then exported as images and pasted into Google Slides. This gives me full control over the font style, size, colors and more. It allows me to build a presentation that is beautifully crafted and customized to correctly communicate my ideas.
I do not believe that enough people care about the way that their presentation looks. Unfortunately, looks can turn people off. Your slides, their design, and imagery can communicate to the audience on their own. When someone looks at my slides, I want them to be able to stand on their own merit. Beautifully crafted slides communicate a level of expertise and a certain degree of effort and commitment. This increases my value as a speaker.
That’s why I advocate for beautifully crafted presentations. Hours upon hours are spent fleshing out the idea, building the script, crafting the slides and practicing to perfection. The above presentation took me about six weeks to put together and practice, but the idea is one that I’ve been fine-tuning and testing for more than a year.
A Clear Call to Action
Giving a presentation doesn’t do any good if the content doesn’t move the participant. It does even less good if the participant leaves and takes no action. With every presentation I craft, I ask this one question: What is the transformation I want the audience to go through and what do I want them to do as a result? Once I know the answer, this becomes the gold standard that every letter of the script is measured, and every image is selected.
When there is a goal in mind, a transformation, it ensures that the presentation is focused, purposeful and precise. It’s also a good barometer for how well the idea is being translated. For example, I gave a presentation at Dreamforce a few years ago and found that, while the feedback was positive, what the audience got out of it wasn’t what I was hoping to communicate. They didn’t go through the transformation I planned.
That presentation was tweaked and altered, and I presented the modified version a few months later. Again, the transformation wasn’t there. That is when I decided to take a whole new approach and start over. The result is the presentation you see above. Thankfully, this presentation was well received and the outcome, the transformation, was exactly what I was hoping for.
When there is an explicit transformation, this also leads to a call to action. Now that the audience has been transformed, what should they do? What is that next step? This is the one moment when you can create change. By not providing a clear and concise call to action, the audience is left hanging on the line with nothing to do. In this case, you’ve done the audience a tremendous disservice, and the presentation was a flop.
If we go back to the example of a documentary, the whole purpose of the presentation is to get you to take action. If you’ve been moved enough, and the call to action is clear, you are likely to engage; to call your congressman, or change your purchasing habits, or donate money, etc. This is the same behavior that a great presentation should model itself after.
Crafting Your Presentation
There are plenty of resources available to help you become skilled in the area of public speaking and presentation prep. Here are some of the tools and resources I’ve found to be helpful in my self-study of the topic.
Resonate by Nancy Duarte – this book gets into the science behind great presentations. It dissects the best of history’s most influential speeches to find common themes. It uses these findings to help you create a pattern or outline for your presentation. Nancy is also the author of Slide:ology which explores the concept of slide design.
Talk Like TED by Carmine Gallo – admittedly, I haven’t read this book, but it’s on my must-read list. I did hear Carmine on a few podcasts this year and was impressed with his research. He studied some of the most famous TED talks and, much like Nancy, determined the common threads to these talks and narrowed them down into 9 “secrets” of public speaking.
Canva.com – this free tool is used for all of my images on Admin Hero, along with all of my presentations. Users can import their photos, or use the free photos or other graphic elements in their designs. Choose from pre-determined template sizes, or create your own. When you’re done, export as a high-resolution image or PDF.
StockUp – I love this website. It is an image aggregator, pulling from sources across the web. These images are royalty-free, and generally can be used without attribution. I’ve used this site to find multiple images for Admin Hero posts, and for presentations.
FontSquirrel.com – default fonts drive me crazy. I prefer to play with and experiment with fonts. There are thousands of free or cheap fonts available for download. Font Squirrel provides cheap fonts for purchase, and there’s quite an extensive library.
FONT TIP: Remember, any fonts installed on your computer will only display on another person’s computer if that font is installed. To be safe, craft any slides that will use a downloaded or web font in a tool like Canva, or save the slide as an image and paste it into your presentation. This will ensure that the font is displayed as you intended.
SlideShare – an excellent website for finding information and inspiration. There are a wealth of presentations which show how to create great presentations. One that I like is shown below. It’s also a great place to find ideas for themes, formatting, and various slide design elements. You can also find terrible slide designs that you may want to use as motivation!
Note and Point – another great website to showcase great presentations; this site has some beautifully designed slide decks to use as inspiration.
TED Talks – there is no better resource, in my opinion, than a TED Talk. Every presenter at the official TED conferences goes through months of training and coaching before they set foot on the stage. They learn how to stand, where to add pauses, infections and more. Watching these presentations will not only inspire and educate you, but you’ll learn techniques for creating an effective presentation.
There are plenty of resources available to you. If your presentation skills can be improved, take some time to learn, practice and iterate. It’s all about putting yourself out there and finding what works best for you! Study great presentations, read books and most of all, practice.
Do you have some resources that have helped you create engaging presentations? Or perhaps you have a success story! Leave a comment below to share!