The Insiders’ Guide to Employee Communications

By Poppulo

Table of Contents

Presentations aren’t about slides: they’re about engaging people

We all know how effective a good presentation can be, but we also know how a bad one can not only bore an audience to death, it can destroy a business case and shatter the confidence of the presenter when it all goes horribly wrong. But there is an easy route to a better way.

1. Think differently. Don’t blame the software, don’t blame PowerPoint!

The expression ‘death by PowerPoint’ is a cheap shot. The problem lies with the presenter not a fine piece of presentation software. Presenters need to think, act and deliver differently. They need to think about the way we are engaging with their audience and how we are taking advantage of this opportunity.

2. Presentations are not about slides. They’re about engaging audiences

First, stop the knee-jerk reaction when thinking of a presentation, which usually is to look for what slides already exist so that they can be reused or repurposed. Instead, think about what engagement you want to achieve through the presentation. What are you trying to achieve, what change are you looking to communicate and spark within the organization?

Stop thinking of the presentation as just another task

Many of the problems associated with presentations are that they’re not seen as an opportunity — an opportunity to communicate and engage and spark ideas. They’re seen as a task that has to be done, along with other humdrum jobs like reports and emails, etc. And because PowerPoint is so easy to use, it’s very common to see people putting their presentation together right up to the time it’s due to be presented. This creation of decks on the fly contributes to poor standards and quality.

Start thinking of the presentation as a privilege and an opportunity, not a chore

Making a presentation is like starting a business, where you invest time/resources if you believe there's a return that's worthwhile going for. Regarding a presentation, this might be funding for a new project or making changes that will impact the business. Hence the need for thinking about presentations seriously. And not seeing them as an exercise in collating old PowerPoint slides, but really giving them the time and effort they deserve. This is absolutely fundamental to making a successful presentation.

5. Recognize the single most important element of any presentation: the audience

It's often not thought about enough, but the audience is the most important stakeholder in any presentation. But don’t think of them as an amorphous group that you’re just throwing information at. It’s too easy and tempting to form stereotypes in your mind about your audience, and that’s dangerous. For example, if you were presenting to the finance department it would be stereotypical to think of them in a finance kind of way and put in lots of figures etc, but that would be a mistake as, like any department, they are made up of individuals, and some might be more engaged and influenced by visionary and big-picture thinking, or an emotional connection. Because all presentation audiences are made up of people, if you engage with them on their own terms it can have a very powerful effect.

6. Act differently! Focus first on the message, the design is secondary. It’s the message your audience will remember. Or not.

A successful presentation is where you meet one of the audience in the corridor a few days later and they remember the message you wanted to get across. What you most certainly don’t want is for them to say they couldn’t remember your message but your slides looked great!

So, above all, really focus on what message you want to get across, what you want your audience thinking about when they’re going home that evening. If you give it the focus it deserves you’ve got a much better chance of your presentation being valuable to both your audience and yourself as a result of having a clear, actionable message.

7. Your message picks your content

Once you’ve got clarity around the message the content for the presentation picks itself because it’s merely the information you need to share to allow your audience to go along with you. This is now the point where you can begin to concentrate on making it look great, making the design work by including powerful images that really engage your audience. But you can only do that successfully if you’re building on a strong foundation, and that foundation is the message you want to get across.

If that’s unclear, for whatever reason, everything else will be equally unclear, you’re going to lose your audience and your presentation will be remembered for all the wrong reasons.

8. Use the right presentation tool

Make sure you use the right tool at the right time to ensure you’re sharing your content in a way that engages your audience. This could be an interactive whiteboard, PowerPoint, a tablet, print, SlideShark, or a webinar. When you are presenting slides, don’t equate the number of slides with the value you share with your audience. You can often have greater impact and value for your audience with fewer slides that are more powerful. Resist the temptation to try to reflect how hard you’ve worked putting the presentation together with the number of slides you create!

9. Consider options for presentation delivery

These can be:

  • Formal one-way lectures where the presenter is broadcasting to an audience. For certain circumstances these are perfect, but not for others.
  • Two-way interactions which are more informal and where the audience is encouraged to get involved: the more interaction you can have with your audience the better.
  • Chats which are much more informal, where, for example, a team leader communicates with their colleagues. Your audience will define where you sit on the presentation landscape. What will be consistent is the message you share with the audience, whether the presentation delivery is formal or informal.

10. How to stop execs from throwing in the kitchen sink!

It’s not uncommon for busy executives to want to throw lots of data and information into a presentation because it’s easier as they don’t have time to think about it more carefully and be more selective, which ultimately leads to a poorer presentation.

A good way to convince them to put more thought into it is to highlight the cost of an internal presentation in terms of hours, opportunity cost etc. A formal internal presentation can be a big investment when everything is factored in.

This section is based on a Poppulo webinar with Simon Morton, Founder, Eyeful Presentations: Effective presentation techniques: what you need to Know.

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