Presentation Slide

You have to give a presentation, and you need advice. You've come to the right place. In this article we offer tips on giving a great presentation using PowerPoint. How to use PowerPoint well, and how to give a confident presentation. (Don't have PowerPoint? See How to Produce Online PowerPoint Presentations and How to use PowerPoint for free online.)

Give better presentations using PowerPoint Section 1. Creating a Powerpoint document

We'll start off by giving some general tips on putting together a PowerPoint document. If you are artistically challenged as me, the best tip I can give is: engage a designer to make your presentation look pretty. But bitter experience has told me that this is not a practical tip. Here is what I have learnt from cobbling together my own visual slides.

Give better presentations using PowerPoint: Sketch out the story

Simple, but crucial. Before you even open up PowerPoint, know exactly what you want to say. Then break up that story into slides. Each slide should be a talking point: something around which you can present for a minute or two. It's all too easy to open up PowerPoint and waste hours creating nice slides that don't help your prezzer. So work out what you are saying, and then when you do create a PowerPoint document, block out what each slide will be before you do anything else.

Give better presentations using PowerPoint: Illustrate, don't repeat

Another basic but critical tip. Your audience isn't going to remember every word you say. And even the note-takers are unlikely to write down the contents of your slides. You want them to get the gist of your argument, and remember the main points. So don't repeat the words you are going to say on your slides. Instead, use each slide to illustrate the point you are going to be making. It's a presentation, not an affidavit: the key thing with the visuals is to capture-, and keep, the audience's attention. So use as few words as possible on each slide, in order to sum up what you are saying. Remember that a graph, pie chart or image tells a thousand words.

Give better presentations using PowerPoint: Keep it simple, stupid

This is similar to previous point but relates to the number of slides as well as the complexity of information contained on each. It is a rule of thumb in journalism that the best way to tell a story is with the fewest number of words. So it is with presentations. It is never a good idea to beat into submission your audience with sheer volume of slides. Make each slide a memorable sign post for where your argument is going, but keep it to as few slides as possible with which you can tell the whole story.

Give better presentations using PowerPoint: Theme sections

Even if you aren't particularly visual you can make any PowerPoint presentation look professional by utilising a consistent theme. Making sure the core elements are on the same place on each slide. Using similar fonts and colours on each slide. Moreover, a good idea is to break up your presentation into sections, and then subtly theme each section. Perhaps your opening section features a blue outline, and the bit where you cover last quarter's revenues a blue one.

Give better presentations using PowerPoint: Use images and transitions, but use them well

Finally in this section, with great PowerPoint comes great responsibility. Avoid the temptation to throw all of PowerPoints considerable power at your presentation. A subtle transaction here and there can add pace and sheen to your talk, but forcing every slide to dissolve into the next quickly becomes laughable. Never, ever use a crazy transition without irony. And be careful to avoid over using clip art. Illustrating a point is good, forcing your audience to view myriad shots of models pulling quirky poses is not so good. A little goes a long way, here. (See also: How to share PowerPoint presentations with Gmail.)

Give better presentations using PowerPoint section 2. Presenting

Now you have your presentation, let's get into the art of standing in front of an audience and telling them how it is. Contrary to popular belief, few people are just 'naturally' good at presenting. It is a skill to learn like any other. Some people will be better than others even with experience, but everyone can be a good presenter. Here are some tips as to how.

Presenting on stage

Give better presentations using PowerPoint: Practice makes perfect

I love presenting, and will talk about anything on which I have knowledge at the drop of a hat. I've done it a lot. But I will always use all of the time I have available to practice and get it right. And I mean standing up, flicking through slides, speaking out loud, timing myself. It's perfectly feasible to present without practice, and if you are used to the task it may be that practice will blunt your edge. But if you have the time to get familiar with the pose, the timings and the message, why wouldn't you?

Give better presentations using PowerPoint: Introduce yourself

The most important part of any presentation is the beginning. Hold up your head and introduce yourself. Who you are, what you do, and why you are standing in front of them. Tell the audience where you came from and what you are going to address. Set an agenda. And set the terms: if you want questions throughout tell them. If you want silence and then questions at the end - let them know. Some people suggest a joke or anecdote to kick off a presentation, and there is some value in this. But only if you are comfortable with that kind of thing. The killer thing is to break the ice between you and the audience. To look at as many people as possible, and start a conversation.

Inatech 2.4GHz Laser Pointer Pen WP1001

Give better presentations using PowerPoint: As many notes as you need

There is a mania in contemporary politics for speaking without notes, as if you need to be able to do so to be credible. All well and good, unless you are Ed Milliband and you forget to talk about the economy. The fact is that being able to talk with- or without notes is no signifier for competency. If you can do it, great, but the important thing is to have with you the level of notes with which you are comfortable. With one exception.

It is rarely a good idea to write out your presentation verbatim, and read it. If you do this you will naturally keep your eyes glued to the page and fail to react to- or interact with the audience. But I know several good presenters who write out everything long hand, and keep the script to hand for comfort. There is nothing wrong with that. Again, it comes down to practice. Many people present best just by looking at the slides and riffing off them. Personally I prefer to put down bullet points for each slide, and then refer to them as I go. Many is the occasion on which I get to the end and realise I haven't used the notes at all. But it gave me confidence knowing they were there.

Then there is the physical nature of your note keeping. I email myself a text document and then view it on my phone, so that I know I have the notes to hand. Alteratively a tablet is good, or even good old fashioned cue cards. Just think about it: if you are presenting on someone else's turf it is possible that you won't be able to see the notes you put into PowerPoint, so it is always worth having a plan as to how you will see your notes. And a tatty sheet of A4 is rarely the best option.

Give better presentations using PowerPoint: Use the tech at hand

Other things to find out about in advance. What is the tech setup at the venue at which you are presenting? A mic is always good - is there going to be one? If not are you prepared?

If you are presenting somewhere unknown, always send on the PowerPoint file and any media files in advance. You don't want a last-minute panic when you are about to begin your talk. If you are using your own laptop ensure that it is compatible with the projector - I have seen many a slip betwixt Mac and PC in this regard. Indeed, it may be that there isn't a projector, so it is always worth checking, and being prepared to present from a laptop screen if required.

Give better presentations using PowerPoint: BYOD

If you are going somewhere new, and you don't know the tech setup, it is worth taking along some of your own kit. Perhaps you can carry a small projector and display your presentation from your laptop to the wall. It's not as expensive or physically demanding as you might think. And you will know that you can handle whatever the venue throws at you. It is a small thing but personally I love having a wireless presenter pen that I know will allow me to control slides wherever I am standing in the room. And if it has a laser pointer so much the better. Like illustrating with images, use of such devices is very much less is more. But it can make a significant difference to your presentation.

I use either an Inateck WP1001 (above) or an Inateck WP1002 presenter pen (below). Both cost around £25 or less. They work with all laptops, and allow you to remotely control your presentation, and to point at specific parts of the screen. They are also both small, stylish and discreet, and with regular use will give you confidence in your work as you present. (See also: PowerPoint alternatives: the best presentation tools revealed and How to use PowerPoint for free online.)

Inateck P1001