When was the last time you attended a fun and engaging PowerPoint presentation? Or better yet, when did you last engage an audience with your slides?
I assisted a talk by a major company executive awhile ago. He was knowledgeable, his slides beautifully designed, and confident, too.
There was a problem, though… he was… boring!
I thought I was the only one feeling that way; I glanced around the room… some people were sleeping, others playing Minecraft, and still others bending over their smartphones, absorbed in finger-flurrying text exchanges.
Okay, maybe I was falsely assuming the attendees were bored. So, I surveyed the participants after the speech. Well, I could barely meet someone who enjoyed the talk.
The presenter made four mistakes most make when presenting with digital visual aids, especially PowerPoint. Hopefully, you can learn from this manager’s blunders and not alienate your audience in your next presentation.
Reading from Wordy Slides
That’s the number one mistake to be mindful of. Many public speakers spend an inordinate amount of time sharpening their slides that they forget to focus on delivery. The advice is straightforward: never read from your slides.
Visual aids exist to support a presentation, not the reverse. Whether you are using pictures, graphs, or videos, your words always take precedence.
Given our short attention span – eight seconds, according to Microsoft – merely reading from one’s slides is the surest way to lose the audience’s interest.
Always strive to create simple and elegant slides. Use only six bullet points per slides and clear infographics to reinforce your message. Leonardo da Vinci’s quote “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication,” is an essential reminder for anyone designing PowerPoint slides.
Little or No Eye Contact
The speaker made eye contact with us around 15 percent of the time. He spent the remaining time talking to his slides, notes, and the ceiling.
He had my 85/15 rule backwards. No presentation can be engaging without effective eye contact with the crowd.
Facing elsewhere signals a lack of interest in your topic and frankly shows disrespect to the attendees.
That failure to tap into the audience’s natural sense of curiosity will give them a valid excuse to mind their own business.
No Interaction with the Audience
Focusing and reading from his slides gave him little time to interact with us. Animated and engaging presentations are those where the presenter involves the audience by whatever means possible.
Tony Robbins has a clever approach to engage his audience. If you have attended or seen his talks online, you’ll realize, every ten or fifteen minutes, he raises his hands and shouts something along these lines: “If you… say, ‘aye,’” to which the crowd replies, “aye.”
I must admit, I would be annoyed to shout “aye” every five minutes, but it’s an effective technique to keep the audience engaged.
You don’t have to get the participants to repeat “aye,” but you can find a unique way to regain their attention when it has faded. Whatever you do, create some sort of interaction at regular intervals during your presentation.
The audience wants to listen to you, but if you treat them as a group of passive listeners, they will behave correspondingly.
No Pauses when Transitioning between Main Ideas
That executive’s amazing ability to talk continuously for two hours without a sip of water still baffles me.
As if reading from his slides wasn’t bad enough, he wouldn’t allow us the time to breathe and assimilate his information. Remember to pause when you present. It’s good for the throat, the audience, and the brain.
I learned the power of silence while teaching kindergarteners and primary school pupils. When I first started teaching, I would raise my voice to get their attention.
Over time, I realized that was the worst idea ever. Not only was I tiring myself for no reason, I was also exacerbating the chaos in the classroom.
Later, I discovered that long and awkward pauses were the most effective ways to bring their focus back to the class. This principle works equally well with adult audiences.
Extended periods of silence after a question, the transition between major ideas, or a call to action can be powerful attention grabbers.
To recap, next time you present with PowerPoint slides, remember to:
- Interact with the audience
- Make eye contact
- Design simple slides
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