Presentations are a key part of the planning professional’s skill set, says Rachel Miller. Done well, they can win the hearts and minds of your audience, whether you are presenting to clients, addressing a conference, or speaking at a local community hall
Microsoft's PowerPoint is, without doubt, the tool of choice for most speakers. It’s not surprising; this easy-to-use software can highlight and illustrate key points, bringing plans and developments to life and keeping your audience engaged.
But the truth is that a PowerPoint presentation can just as easily fall flat — especially when the slides show no more than a few tired bullet points that the audience has usually read before the speaker has had time to explain them.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Getting the most out of PowerPoint is about having clear objectives in mind and then making it work to your advantage – and most of this is down to preparation.
1. Focus on your audience
Your presentation must be targeted at the audience. This may sound blindingly obvious, but some speakers focus too much on what they want to say and not enough on what the audience might actually want to hear.
Avoid the temptation to demonstrate everything you know. Instead, think about the needs of the audience and focus your presentation on helping it.
2. Start strong
The first few minutes really count. This is where PowerPoint can help you set the scene, show the audience that you understand what it needs, and explain what you are going to deliver. Refine and practice your opening words until you are absolutely happy with them.
Don’t be tempted to save a key point for later in your presentation. You may well have lost half the audience by the time you get to your big reveal. If you don’t win over members of your audience at the start you probably won’t get them back later.
3. Establish a structure
A common mistake is to try to cram too much into a presentation. It’s important to keep your presentation tight and focused; the best way to do this is to create a clear structure that you share with the audience so that you bring them with you every step of the way.
Remember the rule of three – the optimum number of points that most people can absorb and remember. Divide your presentation into three key parts and don’t list more than three points on any one slide.
A tried-and-tested way to structure your presentation is:
- Explain the situation/problem;
- Outline the possible solutions; and
- Present your plan.
4. Get in the flow
The best presenters use PowerPoint to create a logical ‘flow’ of points and move effortlessly from one slide to another. This is where practise can really pay off and it helps to build trust with your audience – essential when you are trying to win it over. It’s also a good idea to introduce a new point before you bring up the relevant slide – it looks more professional and stops people reading ahead.
5. Dealing with data
Presentations are often full of facts and figures, especially in the planning sphere. The trouble is, no matter how knowledgeable an audience is, it will lose concentration when faced with too much data.
There are two key ways to handle this. One is to make sure you present data well – make full use of the PowerPoint tool SmartArt and turn your bare statistics into compelling graphics, such as bar charts and flow charts. Secondly, be selective; flag up the most important data and provide the rest in a handout at the end.