When I look back at over 20 years of my professional career and think about the work tool that I have used the most and also been exposed to most frequently, it has to be PowerPoint. Either as a creator or presenter of my presentations or as the recipient of others’ content, I am connected to PowerPoint for 50-70% of my work time. Presentation skills are crucial for careers.
While the percentage of time spent with PowerPoint may not hold true for all managers, I would argue that when it comes to career impacting events, PowerPoint is often around. We can debate whether it should be so or not, but let us not escape the reality.
And when faced with an opportunity to make a career impact, this is what the average manager puts out:
It is amusing and inexplicable that ‘How to make impactful presentations‘ is not taught in any undergraduate course, and even in the MBA program, it is taught like a theoretical communication course. Take a look at the profile of the core faculty in the Communication area of India’s top business school; not one of them has worked in the corporate world and has therefore, never personally experienced presentation and communication issues that professionals face daily at work.
Learning how to make great presentations takes effort, and has to be developed over time. At the same time, one can make the shift from Unacceptable to Reasonably Good in presentation skills with a few changes in structure and style.
Let me share three tips that can make a huge impact on your presentation skills, and therefore, your career. I will use the earlier slide to demonstrate the changes.
1. Categorize your Content
The industry analysis slide had a lot of information, 10 bullet points. The problem with this slide is that nobody remembers 10 points… as you walk through all of them, not only have you lost quite a bit of time but also the audience attention. Other than, perhaps, showing off that you did a lot of work, you don’t achieve anything by having so many bullet points on a slide.
But if you must present all of them, see if they can be grouped into fewer categories. When I reviewed the ten points, I could see three broad ideas being shared. So, the first thing I would do is to create three headings and place the appropriate bullet points under them.
The three headings represent three insights that you have developed about the market. Your audience can remember three messages.
2. Reduce the English
Too much text on the slide creates clutter, it is difficult to go through so much content. And if you are presenting the slide, even more the need to reduce text.
A simple method is to remove all the English words that only go towards creating full sentences. Remember, your professional audience is very likely to be familiar with the situation. Also, our minds are used to filling the gaps, as long as the key words / data points are presented.
Just a bit of editing caused words to be reduced by 40%. You would notice that I removed one bullet point which was already captured by the heading, and also from the data (organised sector growing faster at 34% as against 15% in unorganised).
3. Tell a Visual Story
Your audience is often distracted and unwilling to give you 100% attention. Imagine you are asking them to look at a slide that has over 100 words (after the reduction)! It is a huge challenge.
As a presenter, it is your job to make it easier for the audience. They are not obliged to listen… it’s your responsibility to persuade them about your proposal or sale. Remember, your career depends on this (and every) presentation.
First step, make it simple. Think of it like a story that you want to tell someone, with three messages. One visual rule of stories is that if you are using a chronological order or a sequence of events, we are using the time axis, which is often presented on the x-axis, i.e. left to right. So, I changed the way the messages are presented.
Till now, was the easy part. Now, I am going to take some tough decisions. What do I want my audience to remember, till at least the end of the presentation, and maybe even later. I will chop the content ruthlessly.
For instance, the third message of large investments is weak: there isn’t enough data to back it up. It looks like the first two messages are key here. I have data to support the insights. And since I have data, I will use charts or other graphic formats, instead of text to represent the data.
This is what I get:
Look at the slides side-by-side.
When you think about your career, your business, your growth, which one would you use? How difficult was it to make the shift from one to the other? Developing your presentation skills is not so difficult; it just requires someone to teach it to you systematically. And since just watching videos does not lead to learning, you need to learn it practically and practice it a lot.