How to make a good presentation into a great presentation
If you’re asking the internet for advice, there’s rarely a shortage. And if you’re looking for quality presentation advice, there are more lists and tips for presenting than you could ever try.
We love reading about different rules and ideas for how to make a good presentation, but as people who create a lot of presentations, what we’ve found most remarkable about a typical presentation we do is how atypical they really are.
You see, the problem with so many of these guides is that they try to help you jazz up your slides, or tweak your language, when what you really need is a different approach to building your presentation.
So instead of telling you how to revise your presentations to be stronger, we encourage you to reframe how you approach creating them in the first place. With a little practice, these concepts will become second nature, and you’ll see the difference on the faces of every audience you meet.
Strategy #1: Write for your real audience, not your ideal one
There are rules that say you should never treat your PowerPoint like a book to be read from. We love this sentiment. LOVE. In a perfect world, every presentation we send out the door would tell a beautiful visual story for the presenter to voice over confidently.
The reality is, there are far too many exceptions to this rule.
Oftentimes we are tasked with creating collateral that must function both as an in-person pitch presentation and a leave behind document, where certain key stakeholders may not have the benefit of a voiceover while they are reviewing critical details.
So we find it best to begin by asking who will be viewing this presentation, and how will they be viewing it? Considering the needs of your client at this level is the first step towards making a great presentation, whether it is a beautifully airy CEO keynote or a detailed RFP vying for business.
Strategy #2: Let content be your guide
We’ve found plenty of handy rules out there that can help you make a good PowerPoint. The 7x7 rule, the 10/20/30 rule, and the 5/5/5 rule can all be handy at times, but their rigid structure can often be too inflexible. Because, despite your best intentions, some presentations simply cannot be 10 slides long.
But if you want to make a great PowerPoint, we find it better to ask the content to to tell you the right format. A sentence? A list? A picture? An infographic? If you listen, your content will tell you how it wants its story told.
And sometimes it’s easy to get hung up on slide count when it truly doesn’t matter that much.
We have a nearly universal rule that we adhere to, whenever possible — one idea per slide. If your deck has to communicate a breadth of ideas and information, space out your ideas so your audience can absorb them, even if that means using more slides. Conversely, if you know your content better than anyone, there might be a time to buck conventions and put everything into a more densely packed slide.
Strategy #3: Find your flow
A good presentation tells a story. This is no different than a novel, movie or a particularly moving song. They all have their beats – ups, downs, big reveals and thoughtful pauses. Presentations are no different.
That’s why our third surefire strategy is to consider how your presentation flows.
Once your slides are nicely designed, you should take a look at how it flows as a whole. We like to do this using slide sorter mode in PowerPoint, but we’ve also taped many printed slides to meeting room walls in our day.
Are the slides balanced? Are there moments that punctuate the flow and give it interest? Does it scan in an interesting way? Using colored backgrounds or full-bleed photography are just a couple of simple ways you can pepper dynamic moments into a presentation and keep your audience engaged until the Q&A.
We know how difficult creating a presentation can be, and we also know there’s a lot of advice out there. But don’t get overwhelmed by all the options, or feel like your presentation will flop if you don’t follow a certain formula.
Just take a step back, look at your presentation as a whole, and let these 3 strategies guide you. Because simply asking yourself to think about your audience, your content, and your presentation as a whole will put you on the path to PowerPoint success.
We are big believers in the effectiveness of slide storytelling, whether that’s visual storytelling or in your content, so we wanted to add a few more things to help you start using it in your next PowerPoint.
Bonus Strategy #1: Start with your story
Often, people will know part of the information they want to include in their presentation before they start. They might be pulling in slides from a previous PowerPoint, or just know which data and details they want to include.
That means they are often working backwards when it comes to slide storytelling.
Instead of rewriting headlines or trying to make what’s on there fit your flow, start with a blank presentation and write out your headlines first.
Focus on headlines that show the benefit to your audience, and build out the story flow at a high level.
Then, you can go back and find where to fit your essential points. This way, you can make sure you are telling a strong and cohesive story without sacrificing any of the content you need to include.
Bonus Strategy #2: Sort for better stories
Our next slide storytelling strategy is simple: use the slide sorter. The slide sorter is the little grid icon at the bottom of your PowerPoint window, and it lets you see your presentation as a whole, rather than scrolling up and down in the sidebar.
This works particularly well with our previous tip about building the story flow first, as it lets you read the top level headlines as a whole.
But it also helps you with visual storytelling. When you see your presentation together, you might notice things you’d otherwise miss, like repetitive designs, inconsistent layouts, or just a lack of visual polish.
That means you can go back and add things like distinct designs for certain types of slides (think infographics or quote call-outs), consistent dividers, or other recurring elements that tie together the visual parts of slide storytelling.
Have more questions about how to make a great presentation?
We have tons more advice on almost every aspect of presenting, all just waiting to help you wow your next audience. Check out our blog library for more presentation tips, or contact us to learn how we can help your business grow.
Have a favorite PowerPoint strategy you’d like to share? We’d love to hear about it!