3 steps for better presentations

By Ashley Pace, Vice Chair, NTEA Generation Next 

This article was originally published in the June 2022 issue of Generation Next Edition.

Nothing’s more thrilling than putting together a presentation, right? For most people it’s very much the opposite – viewed as a necessary and boring (sometimes painful) part of many jobs.

In my experience, there are three key ways to help create an impactful and engaging presentation: storytelling; show, don't tell; and decluttering.

Tip 1: Storytelling

Before you even get started on your presentation, begin by thinking about the story you're telling. What is the purpose of your presentation? Are you reporting out metrics/results, presenting a new idea to company stakeholders, educating on a topic, or something else? 

No matter the subject, your presentation will go over better if you think of delivering the information in a narrative arc.

  1. Exposition: Explain how you got here or give any background.
  2. Inciting action: Give your problem statement or the driver behind your presentation.
  3. Events of the narrative: Deliver the main part of your presentation – most people skip the first two steps and start here. Report your results, give your educational materials, make your proposal/pitch, etc.
  4. Falling action: Present key takeaways in a concise manner. Consider your audience, and explain what it means for them.
  5. Sequel: List any next steps if needed.

Tip 2: Show, don’t tell

Once you’ve developed the outline for your presentation, go back through and evaluate. Are there any pictures, charts, or visualizations you can add to your slide deck to make it more interesting? Are you making any points that could use outside data to back them up? Are you describing a place, product, or process that you can boost with a graphic?

Review your presentation using this principle to give your slides visual interest and increase your credibility. We’ll talk about text-heavy slides in Tip 3, but don’t be afraid to remove text to make room for visual aids here.

Tip 3: Declutter your slides

The dullest presenters read verbatim from their slides – do not be a dull presenter! Presenters bring value by providing context and delivering information in an engaging way. A slide deck should be a support piece for the presentation, not be the entire presentation.

Decluttering your slides will not only make them more appealing which can lead to a more engaged audience,  it can also prevent you from becoming the dullest presenter. Decluttering can help even if you’re delivering the presentation asynchronously. This step requires a few considerations of audience, so I’ll go through the scenarios below.

  1. A Live Presentation: Delivering a verbal presentation alongside a slide deck either in person or virtually. In this scenario, if you have written out all of your points on the slides, go back through and move your text to the notes section. Then, condense that text down to short phrases, bullets, or even a visual representation on the slide. This way, you can print your notes (and can even read straight from them), and keep your audience engaged since they can’t read all the points you’re making straight from your slide.
  2. An Asynchronous Presentation: Sending a slide deck as the sole presentation – not to be accompanied by a verbal presentation. In this scenario, you will need to have more text on your slides to fully explain your points to your audience, but you still need to declutter. Take a tour through your slides and edit any text for conciseness. Make sure your font size is readable, and if you have a lot of text on one slide, don’t be afraid to break the information up into multiple slides. Pictures (or even videos!) can be helpful to break up your text-heavy slides and tell your story.
  3. All presentations: An easy way to declutter your slides is to create an appendix for extra charts or information that is needed, but not necessary to your main narrative. You can always reference it if there’s a question asked, but it doesn’t have to clutter up your presentation.

Next time you’re preparing a presentation, think through these three tips and you will wow! Do you have any additional tips to share? Come share them in the comments of the Generation Next Facebook Group or LinkedIn Group – I’d love to hear from you!