How to Create a Killer PowerPoint Presentation – 10 Common Mistakes to Avoid

Your presentation is your most powerful closing tool. You know that. You also know that every sales person confronted with a big sales pitch wants a presentation so compelling, so persuasive, so amazingly unforgettable that by the end of it the audience is sold. Why not?

I’ll tell you why not. I look at sales presentations every day, and I can give you at least 10 reasons why a presentation falls flat. And it is not a failure of PowerPoint. The bloopers I see are made by the “writers” of the presentation, either because they have no idea how adults hear, see, and process information, or because they don’t have the time or the creativity to do it right, or because they just don’t care.

PowerPoint is a foolproof software. That doesn’t mean you can’t make a fool of yourself when you use it; you can. It does mean that anyone can use it–and use it well–if you know what constitutes a good PowerPoint presentation. Whether you are in sales, education or service, whether you are a professional or a once-in-a-while presenter, it isn’t smart to annoy your audience or put them to sleep. You want them to sit up and take notice.

Here are 10 presentation mistakes I see most commonly. Avoid them and create a killer presentation.

1. There is no clear message.

The presentation is full of content but the message is unclear. There is lots of information, but what does it mean? If the audience was asked to state the message in one sentence, they wouldn’t have a clue.

FYI, your message is a strong statement of fact. It is the one most important thing you want your audience to remember if they forget everything else. It’s true that your message should never be written in full on the screen because the presenter will say it at the opening and again at the close–as well as several times throughout the presentation.  Nevertheless your audience should be able to discern your message from the slides they see.

For example, your message might be something like: we build the best cars in the universe. Or, our software protects your privacy. Or you can count on us to grow your money. Whatever it is, your slides should reinforce your message and your message should be clear from your slides.

2. There are too many slides.

A listening audience has a finite attention span. When you expose them to too much information, they lose track of where you are and what you are saying. Very quickly, they tune out and turn off because they have lost interest. It’s awfully hard to be a great presenter when nobody is listening.

3. The script is written on the screen.

An audience stops paying attention to a speaker when they begin to read. Plus, they are annoyed because if you simply wanted them to read, why did you ask them to come? You could have mailed it in. Moreover, a presenter reads more slowly aloud than an audience who is reading to themselves–and that creates a cognitive dissonance. So in addition to being bored silly, the audience becomes unhappy with the presenter.

4. There are too many words on each slide.

Never mind that PowerPoint has a “handout” version. Let your kids use that function for their classwork if they wish. But what goes on the screen is not for your handouts. Ever. Your handouts should be reader-friendly documents that reinforce the presenter’s message–not short-cuts to proper preparation. A good rule of thumb is: 3 to 6 words on a slide. Period.

5. The presentation amounts to an information dump.

Too much information makes all of it instantly forgettable. An audience needs two or three–no more than four– important ideas to remember. Give them more, and you may as well stay home and present in the shower.

6. There is no obvious organization.

These are the presentations where the presenter is likely to say: so the first thing is. And the next thing is. And another thing is. And so on. When organization of the presentation is not instantly obvious, the listeners don’t trust themselves to follow along, so they don’t even try. Of course, that means they lose trust in the presenter too.

If you want your audience to sit up and listen, you’ll need to organize your pitch simply and logically–ideally into 3 clear topics your audience will easily remember.

7. There is no graphic appeal and no originality.

Either the presentation is on a white background (to save color printing for handouts–which a presentation is not meant to be) or there is no visual impact to the slides. The problem could be overlooked if there were only a couple of slides. But when there are dozens, visual appeal is essential.

Of course, if there is no originality on the slides, the audience is left to conclude that you are just like all your competitors–and they have seen and heard all this before. They might as well write up their shopping list for next weekend.

8. There are grammatical or spelling mistakes.

Unforgivable and completely avoidable if you use no phrases or sentences on screen.

9. There are too many fancy transitions.

Yes, PowerPoint offers an array of swirling, twirling and eye-popping “transitions” the kids all love. But in a professional presentation, use none of them. That means zilch, nil, nada, zero. Just because you can do it technically doesn’t mean you should. In fact, those transitions physically nauseate most adults and practically guarantee your audience will be looking elsewhere.

10. There is little continuity or cohesiveness.

You know the old joke that says a horse assembled by committee looks like a camel. Sadly, there are too many camels on screen. Perhaps somebody puts in a slide they like from another presentation. Somebody else makes a slide at home and adds it. The marketing department sends you a slide you must use. Then you see a picture you think will fit in and you scan it to use on a slide. Backgrounds are different. Fonts are different. Visuals are different. Presto! A camel!

If you want to engage your audience from the very first word, take note of the 10 most common mistakes I see and avoid them. Make your organization logical, your message clear, and your presentation energetic. Then take pride in delivering presentations that knock ‘em dead.

5 Ways Project Managers Can Improve Their Presentation Skills

It is imperative for project managers to have effective communication and presentation skills. This is because how you present your project and your ideas to decision makers create an impression of yourself and establish your credibility as a project manager early on. Regardless of the purpose of your presentation, you will know you made an excellent presentation when you’ve made an impact on your audience.

1. Be prepared. Your preparation can mean the difference between a good presentation and an excellent project presentation. Give yourself ample time to research your product or project as well as your audience and your competition. In depth knowledge will help you formulate answers and rebuttals in a way that will give value to your audience. Most importantly, knowing and understanding your audience will help you build rapport and catch their interest; making it easier for you to relate to them and vice versa.

As part of your preparation, learn how to use your tools and props to avoid awkward pauses in the middle of the presentation. Use notes with outlines of your key points to keep you from losing track of the ideas you want to convey.

2. Set proper expectations. When you give your audience an insight on what you are going to discuss, you are getting them in tune to what you wish to achieve with your presentation. The best time to do this is during your opening. You are subconsciously directing their minds not to stray to different topics but to focus on what you have to say.

3. Engage the audience and keep it interesting. Adults have short attention spans. If your audience finds your presentation uninteresting, you will soon lose their interest and ruin your chance of getting a positive outcome. If you are using PowerPoint in your presentation, use images that tell a story and keep texts in the slides to a minimum. Use bullet points and not whole sentences. Take time to pause and ask your audience a few questions every now and then, making sure you establish eye contact when you do. Walk around the podium or switch positions to avoid coming off as robotic and stiff.

4. Practice, practice, practice. Your goal is not to memorize your presentation but to muster the flow of ideas, gestures and your timing. Watching your presentation on video is one of the most effective ways of evaluating yourself. Watch for your pace, timing, facial expression, movement and body language. Watch out for areas for improvements and work on sounding more natural and less tensed. Rehearsing in front of peers will help you get a feel of what it’s like to present in front of a crowd.

5. Enjoy. Whether you are pitching to request for additional funds or are aiming to close an event organizing project, it is important to stay confident and enjoy the moment. Enjoying doesn’t necessarily mean you have to make your audience laugh with jokes and antics. It could simply mean giving your audience a positive experience by smiling and staying positive. It is important to remember that your composure is equally important to the information you are presenting. Staying positive in a stressful environment makes it easier for your audience to ease up to the idea that you’re selling them.

Personal Information – How Much Should a Presenter Reveal?

Have you ever sat through a dry an boring speech? Of course you have, we all have. Did you spend any time trying to figure out why the speech was so dry? I’m going to bet that at least one of the reasons is that the speaker didn’t connect with the presenter – the speech content itself was impersonal. Did you know that it’s possible for a speaker to go too far in the other direction also?

A Speech That Nobody Wants To Hear
Once upon a time I had the misfortune to attend a speech that was being given by a presenter who had been married four times. Now the fact that he had been married so many times was no big deal, but the speech was on how to choose the correct investment plan for a 401k. During the speech, the speaker must have “revealed” aspects about his four different marriages at least 30 times. To this day I really couldn’t tell you anything about the different funds that one could use as part of their 401k plan, but I can vividly recall aspects of each of this guy’s marriages. This was a clear case of TMI: too-much-information. No the speech wasn’t boring, but the amount of personal information that was being shared overpowered the message. There’s got to be a balance.

So Where Do You Draw The Line?
All of us desperately want to avoid giving boring speeches. However, we also want to make sure that our speeches have an impact – and if we’re sharing too much personal information this isn’t going to happen. Here are some tips on how to draw the line between too much and too little personal information correctly:

  • Match Your Speech Type: certain types of speeches naturally lend themselves more readily to having personal information included in them. Speeches in which you are trying to persuade or entertain your audience are great vehicles for more personal information. Speeches to inform are not.
  • Match Your Audience: Who is in your audience (and why are they there)? If you have a business audience who are looking for ways to keep their business afloat during a severe economic downturn, then your childhood stories are not going to be appropriate. However, if your are speaking to a Garden Club filled with mothers, then perhaps a childhood story might be the perfect way to establish rapport.
  • Stay On Topic: Sharing personal information just because it makes a great story (like my 401k presenter did) is a bad idea. You need to make sure that the story ties in with what your speech is all about. If it doesn’t, then skip it.
  • Listen To Your Audience: In the end, it all comes down to what your audience wants to hear. If, while you are giving your speech, you start to detect that your audience is not staying with you, then cut back on the personal information and instead focus on your core content.

Final Thoughts
This is one of those tough areas where you are going to have to rely on your speaker’s judgement. Sometimes you’ll get it right and sometimes you might be off the mark and include either too little or too much personal information in one of your speeches. However, keep at it and refine each speech the next time you give it. In the end, you’ll know how much personal information to include in order to be able to intimately connect with your audience and make an lasting impact in their lives.