We’ve all had to sit through the endless stream of boring and often pointless meetings in our jobs, where it’s a challenge to even keep our eyes open, let alone pay attention. While this pretty much sums up the lives of most corporate honchos at leading organizations, there are certain occasional delights that strike like a breath of fresh air, and leave a lasting imprint on audiences for weeks, or even months that follow.
What differentiates these captivating and memorable experiences from the utterly mundane corporate snooze fests, is data, and more particularly, how data is used and conveyed to the audience. Keep in mind that data is a double-edged sword, and what can captivate and drive home a point, can just as easily confuse and derail the narrative, if certain approaches and best practices aren’t complied with.
A complex set of slides with gantt, pareto, scatters, and lines can just as easily put an audience to sleep, with the overall plot lost somewhere between the X and Y axis, if the presenter is not careful. Creating winning presentations is an art, just as much as it is a science, because it involves certain tried-and-tested principles, and is often something that is perfected over years of experience.
The most memorable presentations are those that inspire audiences and compel action by piercing inside their psyche and leaving a lasting impression. It is not the data or information that is conveyed, but the colors, visuals, and effects, along with the presenter’s own personality that drives results. In this article, we lay out the science behind crafting winning presentations for meetings, seminars, and more.
Best Practices For A Winning Presentation
Whether it is a data presentation, which involves presenting facts and figures to higher-ups in an organization, a sales pitch aimed at prospective clients, or a scientific seminar where you’re giving a lecture or showcasing your findings in front of peers, there are certain traits and attributes that remain common to all winning, and well received presentations.
Before we get to the critical elements to present data creatively in presentation, it is important to understand these common traits, and how they fit into the broader scheme of things. When preparing for a presentation, before you get to the essential elements, it is good to go through the below mentioned steps, and have them guide you through the next stage of development.
- Start With The End In Mind – Before creating the first slide, it is essential to have a clear picture of what the goal or objective of this presentation is.
Is it to convert a prospective lead? Is it to convey facts and information to a particular stakeholder? Who is the audience and what type of reaction is expected from them through the presentation?
These are all questions that you need to have an answer to, before deciding on the content, styles, and elements. Once this is done, other aspects will start falling into place without spending too much time on brainstorming or decision making.
- Understand The Audience – Once you have a clear picture of what the finish line looks like, it is time for a deep dive into your audience.
The traits, characteristics, and persona of your audiences will determine the type of content and elements that you include in the presentation. For example, a corporate board is less inclined to appreciate humor, when compared to the audience at a trade show or seminar.
It is also essential to have a good understanding of the audience’s existing level of knowledge pertaining to the topic at hand. For example, if you are presenting to Apple’s genius product designer, John Ivey, you probably wouldn’t want to include a slide on ‘Product Design 101.’
Similarly, a very high-level, and out-of-touch presentation is a great way to lose your audience midway, with most people likely to zone out when things get too technical.
- Keep It Short – A key trait among most winning presentations is that they are relatively short in length.
Even the most genius presenters and public speakers cannot hold onto an audience beyond a certain limit, and the aim must be to convey what needs to be conveyed within that short window of opportunity.
This means editing ruthlessly, with every slide, element, or piece of text having to justify its existence in service of the end goal.
As a rule of thumb, no PowerPoint presentation should have more than 10 slides and be longer than 20 minutes. This also pertains to the flow of the presentation itself, along with that of other elements, transitions, and effects.
- Keep It Simple – Most presenters, at least those who are just getting started have an inclination to showcase or project their own knowledge and intelligence. They tend to do this by using fancy words and jargon, which can rub the audience in the wrong way.
Giving in to such tendencies essentially make presenters lose sight of the bigger picture or the end goal. While it is important to project authority and build trust, it must align with the broader objectives, along with the traits and characteristics of the audiences.
When getting started as a presenter, make it a point to go through each of your slides and ask yourself, if it would be possible to make it any simpler. Look at graphs, points and sentences, and figure out ways to convey the same in a simpler manner. Over time, this process should become fairly intuitive, and you will likely never lose sight of the objective and the audience.
This sums up a few essential practices that most winning presentations have in common, and while a lot of them aren’t that straightforward, just having them at the back of your mind while working on your presenting materials should result in positive changes in the outcomes over time. While this adds plenty of value, ultimately it all boils down to the data, information, and facts you present.
Elements To Present Data More Creatively In Presentations
Keeping the above mentioned best practices in mind, there are a few crucial elements that can fundamentally elevate any presentation.
They mostly serve to present data in a creative, visual, and intuitive manner that can keep audiences hooked, all the while making a memorable impression in their psyche, whether it is to compel sales, or to just convey valuable information.
1. Color Schemes
Humans, not unlike honey bees, are visual beings, capable of being hypnotized by contrasting colors even if the actual subject-matter of the presentation is of little interest to them. The key is to select the right colors, and their variants that result in a scheme that perfectly encapsulates the essence of the presentation, all the while accentuating key facts to help drive home the narrative.
There are decades of science pertaining to colors, their variations, and effects, all of which definitely hold true for presentations and all types of marketing materials. If you are just getting started, however, your best bet is to experiment with different schemes, and narrow down to the one that yields the best results, or resonates with the audience.
To aid in this experimentation and to get a sense of popular visual trends, you can discover trending images on platforms like Freepik.
A color scheme essentially sets the tone or mood for a meeting or presentation, and as such presenters have to put much thought into what colors they select, and how they are distributed. A bright, in-your-face color scheme might do wonders at a trade show or seminar, but may not be that well received in boardrooms and serious meetings.
The various accents of color should further factor in the background of the presentation, and the broader schemes should align with this core backdrop that holds together the entire slide. It is essential to give some thought to this, as without the right alignment, your text, images, and other elements will seem out of place. As such, it is important to make your projects complete with the perfect background.
2. Images & Videos
Most successful slide decks have minimal text, and drive their narratives with the help of images and videos. Studies have long established that the human brain processes images 60,000 times faster than text, and is thus more drawn towards images, as against big walls of text. This makes it essential to have images and videos dominate your presentations.
While this might sound simple, there is a lot of care and effort required to ensure that the videos and images that you use align with the broader color schemes, branding, and objectives of the presentation, without which it is more likely to distract audiences by sticking out like a sore thumb.
There are extensive image and video libraries that you can use for this, but the generic stock image is increasingly falling out of fashion. The new trend is funny and witty GIF images that emphasize the point with a bit of humor. In order to get your creative juices flowing, make sure to check out some popular presentations for your inspiration.
Infographics were all the rage a few years ago, and they still dominate when it comes to conveying information in an engaging and clear manner. When it comes to showcasing data, infographics outperform traditional graphs and charts by a wide margin, helping create robust narratives, as against mere pictorial representations of data.
Creating infographics doesn’t require as much effort or creativity as it once did, especially with the broad range of tools, elements, and templates that are readily available. If you have a clear idea of what exactly you want to do or achieve, there are plenty of avenues to get them done, in-line with your objectives, without having to spend hours, or splurging on a professional designer.
PowerPoint’s SmartArt helps in creating graphs, charts, shapes, and other visual elements, but they are not infographics per se, not unless they are all combined to drive a broader narrative.
There are, however, plenty of tutorials pertaining to creating infographics in Microsoft PowerPoint, along with a few other options such as Canva, Visme, and Piktochart, among others.
4. Transitions & Animations
While some experts and power users would suggest going easy on the transitions and animations offered by tools such as PowerPoint, or any other presentation software, in reality they add a lot of value in keeping audiences hooked. Any inactivity, or down-time during the course of a presentation is a cue for viewers to space out, which can be avoided with the effective use of moving parts, and animated visuals.
These effects are perfectly suited for novice presenters who may not have the skills to hold onto audiences for extended periods of time. Once you are well versed with the art of presenting, a minimal approach could work just as well, so in essence, the transitions and animations are aimed at helping certain initial shortcomings that most young presenter’s have to deal with.
That being said, however, it is still no excuse to go so overboard with transitions and animation effects that all focus is lost on the main plot of the presentation. They should only serve to lay emphasis on core points and data being presented, and not take away focus from them. There are plenty of effects, transitions, and animations available for PowerPoint users, with a lot more available for download.
The best way to keep the audience engaged, awake, and the room energized is to sparingly use humor at regular intervals. This is again a double-edged sword, with certain types of humor helping ingratiate presenter’s with the audience, while others putting them off. The key as always, is to know your objectives, and understand your audience.
The human brain is just incapable of sitting through slide after slide of boring data, but interspersed with humor, and it has something that helps make the point memorable. Humor can be anything from a hilarious comment, story, or joke, to even a GIF poking fun at some serious stat or data that was just discussed.
Managers and executives who sit through 100s of presentations each year can barely recall data points or facts, but they can more often than not remember a hearty joke in one such presentation. This is how presenter’s make their way into the minds of their audiences, where they live rent free, compelling change or action over a period of time.
As discussed earlier, presenting data creatively during presentations is an art as much as it is a science. The points and key elements discussed above should help lay the groundwork for your upcoming presentations, but truly successful and winning presentations are only possible with years, or even decades of experience.