The Art of Presentation: Basics
Presentations are hard and annoying, but they also represent opportunity. A bad presentation is a dreaded snoozefest filled with a bored audience clearing their mail under the table. A good presentation, on the other hand, can be an invaluable learning experience for both presenter and audience, boosting the audience's perception of you (and your company).
So what goes into making a good presentation? Like any formal discipline, the art of presentation relies on a few basic principles, which when applied correctly, can turn a bunch of slides into a work of art - like a corporate Banksy - brief and impactful (and yes, ‘corporate banksy’ is an oxymoron). So get ready for the SIX secrets that can transform your presentation
Secret #1: YOU are the presentation.
One of the biggest mistakes creative professionals make while putting ideas on a PPT is that they put the entire idea on the PPT. The first and biggest rule of effective presentation is this: your slides are not the presentation, YOU are the presentation. Slides are visual aids and should be treated as such.
Think of how preschool teachers explain basic math concepts to a bunch of 5-year-olds; they utilize toys, shapes, and colours as teaching aids in order to make learning fun and engaging. However, the objects she uses are irrelevant - swap a cube with a ball and the teacher will still be able to get her point across.
That is how you must treat your Powerpoint file, as a visual aid. One might even take the analogy further and treat the audience like a bunch of five-year-olds with the attention span of a goldfish. Trust me, it helps.
Secret #2: Don’t speak over text.
Below is a visual representation of what it looks like to the audience when a presenter is speaking over a text-heavy slide:
How much of that did you understand? Exactly.
Secret #3: Important Text = Big Font Size
When it comes to your PPTs, size matters. More specifically, the size of text elements on a slide, like the title and body text. We often fall into the trap of thinking that the title is the most important element on a slide - when nothing could be further from the truth. Think of it this way - how much information is contained in the title (usually 2-3 words long) versus the information contained in the body of a slide? The body copy is obviously more information dense, while the title of a slide is just the summary of the body.
So while it may feel counter-intuitive, always emphasize on the body copy by making it bigger than the title of a slide - especially if you want your audience to read the information in the given slide.
Secret #4: Dark backgrounds make for a better reading experience
This one may sound like an obvious rule, but I’m surprised at how few people actually follow it, especially while presenting on a screen in a relatively dark room. If you have texted someone at 2 AM lying in bed, you’ll know just how annoying it is to read a text at full screen brightness (especially on Whatsapp, where the default background is usually light). Have mercy on your audience’s eyes, and they will reward you with attention.
Secret #5: Use contrast to guide your audience's’ eyes
Human eyes did not evolve to perceive text, or shapes, or any objects for that matter. They evolved to perceive the contrast between dark and bright. The best presenters know this and take full advantage of this fact by using contrasting text to guide the audience's eyes from one line to the next. To illustrate, compare the following two slides:
Slide 1 (no contrast)
Slide 2 (with contrast)
It’s a minor change that won’t take up more than a few minutes of your time while formatting the presentation, but to the audience it will make a world of difference.
Secret #6: Six is the limit!
This one is slightly more scientific, so stay with me. Our eyes do not ‘count’ objects when they are in very low number. For instance, notice how long it takes for your to count the number of dots in the below picture:
Now do the same for this picture below:
Took a while right? Scientifically speaking, your brain only starts ‘counting’ objects on a flat plane (like a slide) when there are more than six objects on the plane. This means when you have more than six elements on a slide, the audience will instinctively start counting those elements, and will not be able to ‘absorb’ the content of the slide as a whole. This will diffuse the core message of your slide (and consequently your entire presentation) and reduce retention. So always keep less than six items on any slide (the fewer the better).
I hope you found these tips helpful. Follow the advise judiciously and see the transformation in how the audience perceives your presentation - and more importantly - how much they remember afterwards!
About the author
This article is aimed at creative professionals to help them effectively communicate ideas and get buy-ins from all stakeholders involved in creative decision-making.