Keep It Simple – The Do’s & Don’ts of Good Presentations

Preparation & Planning

  • PresentationDo prepare in advance of a presentation (never just wing it, it will show…..badly).
  • Don’t just dump all your ideas down onto PowerPoint as a stream of consciousness!
  • Do plan your presentation out on paper before you start creating it in PowerPoint – outline your story and the key slides, their objectives and key messages that you want to cover.
  • Don’t assume that your audience has the same level of knowledge around the details as you do. This is doubly important when creating cascade presentations and it is key that you provide sufficient detail in speaker notes for the lowest level of knowledge.
  • Do use work that other people have already completed, but be wary of using other people’s slides directly without amending them, is the info still up to date and is the slide still effective (e.g. it may have been seen too many times before or could be too technical for the audience).

    Make sure that when you use other people’s slide/info that you adapt them to the look & feel and tone of voice of your presentation.
  • Don’t just create your presentation based on what you want to say and/or what you think your audience wants to know.

    The best presentations are created based on having asked the audience what they want to know about before you create your presentation. It’s a little bit of extra work, but the benefits far outweigh the extra work.
  • Do send your presentation round to peers/interested parties for comment/feedback where appropriate before you present. They may be able to pick up on errors/missing info or add additional info/insight to your presentation. The best presentations are rarely created by one individual.

    However, be mindful of sending out your presentation to too many people; don’t lose sight of what you are communicating!
  • Don’t create your presentation and then assume it will never change if you need to present it again. After every presentation you do, think about the questions that came up.

    If this is a presentation that has a long shelf life you might want to address the recurring questions in your presentation to avoid them coming up again.

    With every presentation your delivery should become much slicker and easier if you adopt this process.

Consistency of Style & Tone

  • Do use a consistent look and feel throughout the presentation. When working on corporate presentations ensure that you adhere to the presentation and branding guidelines.

    Is your presentation using the corporate stationery/template, but even more important is it using the correct tone of voice? Large corporations often have Tone of Voice Guidelines, which are either part of the Brand/Presentation Guidelines, or part of a guideline suite.
  • Don’t mix up different styles through your presentation (e.g. if you start out using Title case in your headings keep this going throughout).

Visual Accessibility

  • Do break up your presentation with relevant images and/or graphics. Not everyone needs them, but many people are more visually stimulated and therefore need to see imagery or graphical representations to understand as well as just the words on the screen.

    When choosing imagery, try to use images that have some connection to the slide objective/key messages.
  • Don’t use difficult to read or uncommon fonts that might not be saved on other people’s computers. So for instance the font Comic Sans or the Calligraphy style fonts.

    When working with corporate presentations there will invariably be brand guidelines on the fonts that have been approved for presentations.
  • Do use a font size of 14 pt or larger – smaller fonts may mean that people will not be able to read it. Rule of thumb – If it can’t be read then it shouldn’t be on your slide!
  • Don’t use garish background and font colours, remember it might be easy to see when you are less than 50 cm’s from your screen, but how will it look projected from about 6 metres away?

    Also, just because you like the mix of Fuchsia and Lemon doesn’t mean other people will! Stick to neutral colours & tones, blues, blacks, greens & whites if you are not working with a branded template.
  • Do be mindful of people with colour blindness; avoid teaming the colours of red and green together!
  • Don’t create long bullets with several sentences; try to keep your bullets to single sentences, two maximum.
  • Do use bullets instead of paragraphs. People find it very hard to read off of the screen and paragraphs can make people instinctively switch off and disengage with a presentation as they appear to be hard work to read. Again – Keep it simple!
  • Don’t use more than 6 bullets per slide (blank slide); if you have headers and footers on corporate stationery/template this may need to be lessened.
  • Do put a clear line break between bullets, this helps to make them easier to read and makes them look neater on the screen. Remember that “presentation” i.e. the way it looks is as important as the content when communicating.
  • Don’t use more than 12 words per bullet point on your slides and where possible avoid this on your speaker notes – keep it clean and simple!

    On speaker notes when you have more than one sentence or message per bullet break it up with clear line breaks, e.g. as per this document.
  • Do keep your bullets to a single line where possible, this keeps your slides looking clean and tidy visually.

Slide Layout & Content

  • Don’t try to cram too much detail/information into one slide. This is not just the number of words (though that is a big part of it), but also the number of key messages you are trying to cover.

    One slide should really have no more than 3 key messages unless it is an early positioning slide where you are outlining a number of messages at a high level that you then go into more detail later in the presentation.
  • Do keep your slides to a minimum, maximum 15 slides for a 30 min presentation, NB this does not include Q&A time! This assumes a 2 minutes per slide presenting ratio (which most struggle to maintain).

    A trap that a lot of people fall into is to try and combine slides together to make a presentation appear shorter. In truth it just makes it more complicated to present, look untidy and also ruin the pace of a presentation as you can spend far too long on a single slide instead of moving on.
  • Don’t put in meaningless slides, e.g. additional slide titles, agendas on a short presentations, etc.
  • Do have some fun with your presentations. The presentations that work best and are the most memorable are often the ones where you have a bit of fun and engage with your audience.

    This goes for the content and the way in which you present it. Remember people buy people, if you don’t seem to be enthusiastic about your content why should they?
  • Don’t use acronyms unless you have previously prefaced them with the actual title/phrase and all acronyms should be written out in speaker notes, especially for cascade presentations. However, as a good communicator you should try to avoid them where possible.
  • Do use handouts – especially for complicated diagrams or detailed information. Depending upon the style of your presentation you can choose to give these out before, during or after your presentation.

    If it is a cascade presentation then you should indicate in the speaker notes that there are handouts and when these should be delivered to the audience.
  • Don’t put word for word exactly what you are going to say on your slide. This immediately makes people switch off and they may cease to see either the slide or hear what you are saying.

    This is a common mistake that people make when presenting and is especially true in cascade presentations where the presenter doesn’t know the content and doesn’t have good speaker notes to refer to.
  • Don’t overuse sound and animation – 9 times out of 10 the animation that is used is unnecessary and irritating to the audience and in a cascade presentation can cause confusion and embarrassment for the presenter.

    Think – do I really need to animate this slide; does the sound effect actually add anything? Animation is most useful when you are building concepts, or wish to introduce information in a trickle effect.

    When you do use it please ensure that you make sure that you have detailed animation notes in the speaker notes.

Timing & Delivery

  • Do create detailed speaker notes using bullet format rather than paragraph to make them easier to absorb for people presenting your presentation.

    You should provide the following on each of your slides:

    *Slide Objective
    - What is it that you are trying to achieve/get across
    *Key Messages – What are the key messages that you need to ensure you get across within this slide (This may be the same as the slide objective)
    Supporting Messages/Information – Additional information/messages that may be useful when explaining the slide/discussing themes and details of where to find supporting documentation/handouts
    Animation Notes – Explanation of any animation used and how it builds
    Activity – Details of any activities that are to take place at this point in the presentation.

    Your first slide should also contain the following information in the speaker notes:

    *Presenter Notes – A bit of info about presentation, what/who it was created for, whether it is for cascade, who the author is and when it was created.
    *Presentation Purpose – What is the overriding aim of the whole presentation
    Presentation Key Messages (May be the same as your presentation purpose)
    How to use the Presentation – Necessary if you intend for this presentation to be used by other people and therefore should as a rule always be put in just in case

  • Don’t over script your presentation – especially if it is likely to be used by other people. Keep it simple, use bullets in your speaker notes and break it down using the framework above.

    Remember, not everyone talks the way you do and their logic might lead them to relay information in a different order to you.

    By using bullets you allow a presenter the opportunity to pick out key information easier and therefore present it more naturally.
  • Do allow your audience to react naturally (e.g. in a presentation if a question is asked answer it then and there where possible, if you make people wait until the end a question can be lost or people are wanting to leave and therefore reluctant to ask questions that may delay their escape).
  • Don’t create a presentation which doesn’t allow time for questions or queries, remember communication is two way, you won’t have had a good presentation if no one chipped in nothing at all!
  • Do rehearse your presentation before it is presented, even if you are not the one who will be presenting it.

    You need to rehearse it to fully understand the timing and to understand if the flow is working as you planned.

    Try to get an independent person (a long suffering loved one) to listen to you and give you some feedback on how the presentation went.
(*minimum requirement)
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