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Presentation Tips

Great presentations are really great stories. It’s great stories that move people, not stock images, bullet points, or diagrams.

We asked you a few years ago what you’ve struggled with using PowerPoint. From hundreds of passionate responses to our boring questionnaires, we identified these main issues:

  1. Time: Spend a lot of time without noticing and getting under time pressure
  2. Focus: Struggle with design questions neglecting the content
  3. Confidence: Fear of boring others or getting a blackout

This is not a surprise when you look at how PowerPoint & Co. structures the creative process. Comparing how presentations were created before and after PowerPoint shines a light on what might have gone wrong.

Writing a speech: The Rhetoric Canon was the standard way to prepare a speech since ancient times. The process has a clear starting point, flow, and direction. Start with your idea, then structure it and dress it up. Fine-tune every aspect of your speech as you rehearse and learn it by heart.

The PowerPoint Spiral: PowerPoint lets us first pick a theme. Then it moves in circles between picking slide types, rearranging slides, filling in textboxes, and importing graphics. Practice and memorization is replaced by previewing the file. The slides are designed to function like key cards. The handout is usually an exact copy of the slides.

The Bad Habits

Our meetings take too long, our presentations feel empty and no one pays attention. Tools like PowerPoint and Keynote shape the way we live and work, and boring slide presentations are part of the meeting theatre.

1. Boring, Empty Speeches

People do learn in lots of different ways. And PowerPoint is not designed to make and hold captivating presentations. It’s designed to make us design slides, pretend that we know what we are talking about, and make others accept boring, empty speeches as normal.1 It’s not PowerPoint’s fault that we spend half our lives pretending to speak and pretending to listen. At the same time, PowerPoint is not entirely innocent:

“…responsibility for poor presentations rests with the presenter. But it is more complicated than that. PP has a distinctive, definite, well-enforced, and widely-practiced cognitive style that is contrary to serious thinking. PP actively facilitates the making of lightweight presentations.”2

To make people listen to you, you need a good story. The door to make them look through your eyes will not get unlocked with stock images, graphs, and bullet lists, but with your voice.

2. Playing with Templates

The first challenge is always getting started. Even more, when it comes to presenting. There’s a natural resistance to beginning a task that will end in people judging us.

Common presentation software gets you over the fear of starting by letting you choose a template. Picking templates feels nice. Suddenly, starting looks like fun. At the end of the day though it just delays the pain of asking yourself what you want to say. It invites procrastination.

3. Walls of Text and Bullet Lists

Putting a lot of text on a slide and reading it out to the audience is the #1 presentation killer.

Use text as your script and choose visible elements carefully. Remember: less is more. And if you have to show a lot of text, do not read it all from the slide. It’s a bad habit and a very common one. When we start reading from the slide, while our audience is trying to do the same, our voice clashes with their internal dialogue, and for them, it’s like listening to two people at once.

As for everyone’s beloved bullet lists, they:

These should be reading notes. Slides packed with bullet points look like a lot of work, and it directly sabotages your presentation.

Focus on Your Story

In the real world, we send text messages, emails, tweets, write a blog post or we talk. Now and then we might share a photograph or a video, but mostly we use our words to communicate, and we do it quickly.

Your story is the very essence of every presentation. That doesn’t mean that every presentation needs to be a TED talk. But every time you speak, you need to have something to say.

When you first open iA Presenter, you’ll notice a text-based interface. By default, the focus is not on what your audience is going to see. The focus is on what you are going to say.

First, write your story. The visuals are added later.

Just write it down: Start with your script, import or paste an existing text. Flesh out what you want to say before thinking about how you show it.

Or start with a raw outline: Write title and structure. Don’t worry about slides and visuals. Focus on what you want to say.

Usually, what you want to say already exists in some form. You can paste or import an existing text, and you are 50% done. All you need are page breaks and visuals.

What You Say ≠ What You Show

Reading from a slide is the fastest way to lose someone’s attention. We all know that. How come we still keep doing this?

On average, we read 250 WpM (Words per Minute) while we speak at about 150 WpM. If you project what you are about to say on a screen, your audience will read ahead. You’ve lost them. You have spoiled them. No matter whether it’s verbal or visual information, we do not want to hear again what we already understand. If you want people’s attention, avoid spoilers.

This is why in iA Presenter what you say is only visible to you.

Editor: You can see and discern what is being shown on the slide (titles, images) and what you prepared as a script for when you present and text when exporting the presentation (body text).

Text and voice Avoid reading from slides. The audience can read the title without your help. You tell the story behind the headline. The title should be short and engaging, to direct the attention to the speaker’s voice.

Is the idea to read everything from the teleprompter? No. You can use the Presenter’s view like Karaoke subtitles. You know your favorite song by heart. But in case you get lost, it’s there to get you back on track.

Visuals: Tension and Attention

It’s boring to read from the slide. It’s as boring to explain what everybody sees. Do not show the picture of a dog and say “This is a dog.”

1. Less Is More

Simple headlines and great illustrations reinforce what we’re saying. They give the audience a visual hook to hang the idea on and keep them focused on the voice of the person presenting.

Not every image is worth 1000 words. Stock imagery can be outright insulting to your audience’s intelligence. Just like your words, pick your visuals carefully.

Editor: Image plus spoken text in the editor.

Image and voice: Use images not to express what you cannot say but to attract attention to your story. Create a handout format that displays the spoken information.

We listen when we see something surprising and exciting. We listen when we discover something in the image that we oversaw. We listen when the image carries new information. We don’t listen when you explain what we all already see.

Inexperienced Presenters

choose pictures that duplicate or reinforce the message. This is boring. Visual storytelling is as hard as text-based storytelling. You need the same care and skill to pick images that you need to pick words.

Experienced Visual Storytellers

create tension between the text and the visuals to get their audience’s attention. They choose imagery that raises questions. They use images that make us watch and listen.

Skillful Visual Storytellers

build tension between what they show and what they say. They use images that direct the attention to the speaker’s voice.

2. Design and Layout

“But I need a certain design for my slides!” – Every corporate presenter.

You certainly do. But you don’t work in a certain medium. If you design a static slide, your layout will break on a tablet, a phone, or a widescreen.

In times of responsive web design and mobile-first approaches, PowerPoint still forces us to obey strict resolutions and aspect ratios. That the main form of business communication nowadays uses unresponsive static slides is simply stunning. If we change the resolution of our presentation the whole presentation falls apart. A device-independent, flexible, mobile-friendly design format is what you want in 2022.

If you get a presentation on your phone, you should be able to read it like an email. No zooming, no pinching in and out. Contemporary digital design adapts to the world of 100’000 different screen sizes, and most of all, mobile screens. Contemporary presentations need to be readable on a handheld device.

Device independent, liquid design: A device-independent, flexible, mobile-friendly design format is what you want in 2022. Presentations should adapt to wide screens, different overhead projector ratios, different Zoom windows, tablets, and phones.

iA Presenter adapts your slides to different devices. Goodbye to static design.

Rehearsal and Delivery

You should put all your energy into what you are going to say and take some time to prepare and simplify. It’s important that you stay relaxed and calm, even under pressure.

1. Practice, Practice, Practice

When we practice our story properly two things are happening.

Making It Your Own

We’re experiencing our own argument, hearing our own voice. Noticing the snags and the rough edges, we’re smoothing them out. The experts call this deliberate practice and it makes a difference.

Easing Anxiety

Any uncertainty we might otherwise encounter starts to fade into the background the more we engage with the script. We’re laying down memories, one on top of the other, and calming our nervous system: “That wasn’t as bad as I remember” becomes “I can’t wait to do that again”.

Practice and edit simultaneously: Open the presentation in a separate window to practice. Keep the editor open. If you find a way to optimize, you can edit on the fly without entering and leaving the fullscreen presentation every time you want to correct a comma.

2. The Safety Net

We believe that nothing calms the nerves like knowing that there is a backup, a safety net. Imagine you always have the option of seeing exactly what we need to say, our story, in big, bold type, that is easy to read and easy to scroll.

We have this just in case. If we wrote our story, illustrated it properly, practiced, and optimized it, we don’t need to read from the slide or the teleprompter.

A teleprompter, just in case: Don’t read from slides, and don’t read from the teleprompter. But having the option of seeing exactly what we need to say, big and bold right in front of you will calm us down.

Wanna Know More?

We have shared our take on what makes great presentations on our in-app tutorial and various blog posts, you can check them out here:

  1. ibid. “By playing around with Phluff rather than providing information, PowerPoint allows speakers to pretend that they are giving a real talk, and audiences to pretend that they are listening. This prankish conspiracy against substance and thought should always provoke the question, Why are we having this meeting?” 

  2. Edward Tufte, The Cognitive Style ofPowerPoint: “In day-to-day practice, PowerPoint templates may improve 10% or 20% of all presentations by organizing inept, extremely disorganized speakers, at a cost of detectable intellectual damage to 80%. For statistical data, 1011 the damage levels approach dementia. Since about 1O to 1O PP slides (many using the templates) are made each year, that is a lot of harm to communication with colleagues. Or at least a big waste of time. The damage is mitigated since meetings relying on the PP cognitive style may not matter all that much.” 

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Your story-telling base. Focus on getting content down, Presenter will handle the design.

Presentation Tips

Great presentations are really great stories. It’s great stories that move people, not stock images, bullet points, or diagrams.


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