Presentation Tips

A presentation provides an opportunity for a project manager / team to communicate the key points relating to their project in a constrained timeframe. When you have only 12 to 15 minutes to deliver a clear message, it is vitally important that you pick the right things to cover – so learning to determine and prioritize what’s important to your audience is a valuable skill. Indeed, learning what to say and how to say it clearly and concisely is at the heart of all good communications.

Then the art of delivery requires us to rehearse the presentation so that we stress key points without rushing our presentation. Delivering a good presentation is an art because it requires the balancing of different things – each of which is important in themselves, but allowing any one of them to dominate your presentation will weaken the result. An experienced presenter will know how to apply the different suggestions in just the right way to suit the audience – but for the rest of us, it is a matter of practice makes perfect.

The First Slide

The opening slide is often a missed opportunity. Many of my students show a title slide that offers administrative information like course name, assignment details, team members, etc. But as the first thing that the audience sees, think about using your opening slide to (silently and subtly) provide context for your project. If your project is about an event you might include appropriate imagery to communicate that. You need to establish the project domain which provides the audience visual cues that can save you time explaining through the written or spoken word.

Using the Right Images

In a slideshow, you can use images and graphics to reinforce what you are saying. Your choice of imagery is very important. If, for example, your project is doing something for a charity (and we encourage social initiatives which make good Capstone projects) then you might, for example, display a food van in operations. These are your project stakeholders and the ultimate beneficiaries of your project, and these images can often be sourced directly from the sponsor’s organization.

This sets the scene for the problem your project is tackling, which in this example would be food for the needy. But do not waste the opportunity, especially early in the first minute of your presentation when the audience is settling and tuning into your topic, to use imagery to support and reinforce what you need to communicate.

Slide Layout & Theme

Keep your slides as simple as possible and avoid excessive text. Where possible use a consistent style or colour palette across the slidedeck. Creating a theme that relates to your project would be a touch of class. I am reminded of the example of the Classical Strings Workshop, where the project team used a music theme and even displayed their schedule using the musical staff as a timeline with musical notes to indicate their project milestones – very clever!

Graphic design and layout is literally an art form – and we are not all born with those skills. But you may have a team member who is better at this kind of graphics layout that the rest of the team – so try to assign them the task. You can also get a lot of ideas and develop a conscious appreciation for visual communications by looking at examples of what you like – or if you do not think you have the “eye” then look at what others (like your client?) seem to like.

I personally like Apple’s simple and elegant layouts. That style uses a lot of “whitespace” which means that the text and simple images used will have a lot of separation and so the eye can more easily focus on the “islands of content” in an ocean of white. But, the Internet is awash with ideas for you to mine, but the trick is to be subtle and professional – remember this is a business presentation so make your presentation slides interesting but sober. Have a look at some of the inspiration sites that professional graphic artists use to get ideas from the best websites out there – not quite the same as a presentation but Webframe and sites like it, have a lot of great ideas to stimulate your design juices.

Avoid Excessive Text

You do not want your audience to “read your slides.” They should be focused on the message you are delivering – the text is there simply to reinforce the point.

It might be useful to think of the reasons we use slides in the first place and whose problem they are trying to solve – and then look to solve each of these problems separately. Bad presentations often result from our unconscious attempt to satisfy these three separate requirements in the one slidedeck.

Recognizing that you can cater to these three different requirements in alternate ways than simply addressing them all in your slidedeck, will go a long way to improving what you present to your audience.

Requirement 1: Slides are for the presenter

We sometimes use slides as a script that we can follow so that we do not forget to say something.

This is a classic trap. It might seem to be a useful prop to increase a speaker’s confidence, but it can result in the presenter looking at the slides rather than facing the audience. If you have to read each slide along with the audience, it will make for a terribly boring presentation.

In this case, there is a better solution which is to keep speaker notes separately, either in Powerpoint itself (although it means you will have to look at the monitor) or you could use notes or cue cards which you keep in the palm of your hand.

Requirement 2: Slides are for your audience

Clearly, if your audience is the target of your presentation (dah!) then you should use text sparingly and only to highlight key points. You want the audience to listen to what you are saying, not be distracted trying to read the slides.

The answer is of course, yes. Especially since they are often projected on a big screen to command the audience’s attention. However, a good presenter only needs the slides to reinforce what they are saying. They can hold their audience’s attention and deliver key messages using their voice – speaking louder to stress key points, changing their intonation, or using pausing to bring attention to an issue.

Not many of us naturally possess these skills and so we have to practice delivering presentations – but there is no excuse for boring the audience with detailed slides. You may be tempted to do use the slides to distract the audience from your own shortcomings as a presenter, but in practices that only serve to make the presentation worse.

Requirement 3: Slides are for reference

You may be tempted to use the slides to capture valuable information that can be a useful resource for the audience to take away and absorb the details at a later time. That is a reasonable requirement but it is a post-presentation one and so should not determine the slides that are displayed.

There are more elegant ways of meeting this requirement such as capturing that information as notes section, although it might be useful to differentiate the reference information from the speaker notes so the latter can be easily removed (taking out any private reminders or prompts) prior to distribution.

Some speakers encourage the audience to email them for the slides, so they can make contact with interested parties. But, in our case, there is the Project Poster which serves as a handout or takeaway for the audience – so problem solved.