Presentations: Do Yours Fall Flat?

I’ve often attended presentations of experts in my field. They have a wealth of information – typically information that many people are clamoring to hear; however, their knowledge and message get lost in a dull PowerPoint presentation. It makes me think of this amazing skit, Every Presentation Ever:

[lightbox src=""][button] Watch the Video! [/button][/lightbox]

Experts can rely on their, well, expertise and reputation to keep people listening; unfortunately, most of us at the beginning of our careers don’t have that luxury. I frequently present to or train people who may not know my organization, let alone me. So what steps do I take to keep people engaged? Below are some tips I try to follow:

Give yourself time!

This is one of the biggest and easiest mistakes to make. My more esteemed colleague requires 8 hours of preparation for every hour of presentation. If you are speaking on a topic you haven’t presented before, you may need more time than that. When you set aside this time, it’s important to take the opportunity to:
  • Spell it out by creating an outline
  • Looks are everything - make sure your information catches the audience
  • Get the audience involved through activities or engagement
  • Test it out with a dry run beforehand

Spell it out

If you’re writing a paper, you create an outline – why not do that for a presentation as well? At our company, we define the items listed below:
  • Brief description: If this presentation is to be listed on a flyer or in a program, how would it be described?
  • Audience
  • Length
  • Learning Objectives: When the presentation is complete, what do you want them to walk out knowing?
  • Schedule

Looks are everything

You don’t need to be a graphic designer to have a slick-looking presentation. You just need to follow some simple rules. This set of slides says it all much better than I can:
[box title="Slideshare: You Suck at PowerPoint" style="soft"]

I’ve summarized the points below:
  1. Too much info
  2. Not enough visuals
  3. Bad quality
  4. Overwhelming visuals
  5. Lack of prep (hmmm… was that mentioned previously?)
Prezi is a great too to bring movement to your presentation. Recently, they have developed some templates that you can use. In addition, the presentations are easy to share for those who want to review it later.

Get the audience involved

Do presentations you attend often have the obligatory Q&A session at the end of the session? Is this typically the only interaction the presenter has with the audience? If you’re nodding yes, then more audience involvement is key!
The question is how? There’s many ways of creating engagement. The simplest form of engagement is to poll the audience on a topic or a point you make in the presentation. It’s also a great way for you to get feedback instantly! You may also want to incorporate an opening activity, sometimes called an ice breaker, and a closing activity.

Test it out

Dry runs help work the kinks out of presentations. If the presentation is for a group outside of your office, invite your coworkers to a brown bag lunch and ask them for pointers (cookies or other forms of dessert can be a great bribe). You can also use someone who’s completely unfamiliar with the topic, such as a friend, roommate or significant other. If you can’t get your point across to them, there’s a distinct possibility that the presentation is not effective.


Don’t beat yourself up! Whether it’s before, during or after the presentation, be confident. It’s okay to say you don’t know something, but don’t apologize for it.
~Lauren Westmoreland, YNPN Atlanta Marketing Committee Member