Three Foundations of Presenting with Technology

Whether it is a project update to a team, a sales pitch, or a conference engagement, as business professionals we are often asked to speak with a presentation. Coaching on how to do this effectively is at the heart of my passion and work, which I share with others through workshops and 1:1 training. My coaching on this topic highlights three fundamentals: start with a narrative; create a visual presentation; be the center of audience attention.

Start with a Narrative

Develop your story outside of PowerPoint. The worse thing you can do is open PowerPoint or Keynote or Prezi and start creating your presentation. You will most likely end up with a string of facts that has no narrative structure. Narrative structure is what helps people remember what you said. It is much better to first create your story in a traditional paper outline or hand-drawn storyboard. Your story needs to include a description of your audience and a statement of what they will get from listening to you. It also needs a clear beginning, middle, and end. In simple terms, the beginning defines the story conflict, the middle explores that conflict, and the end resolves the conflict. A conflict can be as simple as the audience not clearly understanding your topic or as intense as the audience needing to take action to stop impending doom. Creating a detailed outline of your story before creating a presentation makes your narrative strong as a stand-alone piece. This is a critical element to effectively presenting with technology. Your story should be awesome without a presentation!

Creating a Visual Presentation

People learn better with a combination of pictures and words (Dr. Mayer, Cambridge Handbook of Multimedia Learning). Dr. Mayer’s research along with Dr. Alley’s research and others, gives us clear guidelines we can use to create presentations that help people remember what is shared. Here’s the quick recipe: create each slide with a concise declarative full-sentence headline, and visual evidence to support that main idea. Minimize text by placing explanations in the Notes section to deliver verbally, not on the slide. As a whole, your presentation needs to reflect your narrative, so it is helpful to start off with an introduction slide or visual agenda incorporating the main idea and previews to all main ideas. From there, take your key outline points and create section starters. Each sub-point from your narrative fits within the main ideas as a slide within the one of your sections. Start by creating a presentation with just headlines on the slides and explanations in the Notes. Then go find, take, or create visuals to support the ideas. Remember, less is more. Not all your ideas need slides and every slide only need one visual.

Be the Center of Attention

You are the storyteller and the presentation is your visual aid. Presenters who get this relationship reversed give boring presentations. You want the audience looking at and listening to you; only occasionally do you want them looking at the presentation to better understand the information you are sharing. Practicing your entire story without your presentation is one way to stay the center of attention. Your confidence will increase and your audience will trust your delivery. When speaking, stand/sit confidently and use your modulating voice, facial expressions, and hand motions to engage your audience. As you are giving the presentation, I recommend starting each slide by silently reading your full-sentence headline to yourself, so that your audience has the time to do the same. Then dive into your explanation assuming that the audience will garner supporting evidence from your visual. Sometimes it is helpful to refer directly to the slide – such as the ‘the green bar on the right shows growth in the last quarter’ or ‘you can see by the picture that housing is developing along the transit line.’ To ensure that the narrative structure comes through in your delivery, preview all your key points up front, verbally remind people of all sections and the main point of the current section every time you start a new section, and summarize all key points and articulate what the audience received by listening to you at the end.

Keeping the three foundations top of mind will help you effectively communicate with presentations. First, create and practice a compelling stand-alone story. Second, develop a visual presentation that holds the narrative and has slides with declarative full-sentence headlines supported by a visual. Third, remain the center of attention when you deliver the presentation. May all your presentations be engaging!