Sometime back the folks at my work asked me to conduct a session on ‘building and delivering a presentation.’ The session was well received, and lot of people came and told me that they found it to be valuable.

I must confess that I felt a little guilty while accepting the compliments. The reason is that I am not a natural when it comes to designing or presenting. I need to practice, a lot of it!

But looking back I did manage to hold on my own. When comes to design I have 15 of my presentations featured on SlideShare so far. When it comes to presenting, I have delivered presentations in front of CEOs, Board of Investors, Professors and Students.

This post is my attempt to document my thought process while handling a presentation.

Tip#1 Share Ideas not bullet points

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This is the most important thing you need to remember whenever you create/make a presentation. Most of the time we focus too much on reading out the slides. The result is slides full of text that puts everyone into sleep.

The reason behind this approach is the fear that the audience will ‘miss out on something.’ Therefore, we put all 50 points in a single slide. Just in case, you know!

However, the problem with this approach is that we fail to consider that the human brain has limited processing power.

To understand this, let’s play a game.

Look at these letters: UPSIRSFBIJFKNASANATO

Now, if I give you 30 seconds can you remember this string? No?


Probably, right?


Now? Piece of cake!

The bottom-line is “share ideas, not points.” Your brain is very good at recognizing and storing ideas. It is terribly bad at understanding and storing random points.

Tip# 2 It’s not about the number of slides

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There is a funny notion that the number of slides determines the length of the presentation.

As a result of this misplaced notion we produce presentations with fewer slides, but each slide packed with an overwhelming number of bulleted points.

If you are doing this stop right away! Instead of thinking about information as slides and bullets think of them as ideas.

How much time you will require to explain a particular idea?

Does it really matter then if you have 1 slide with 10 points or 10 slides with 1 point each?

Which option will work better with your audience?

Tip# 3 Open strong

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Think of your favourite movies. What do they have in common? My guess is apart from a great story, direction and acting they all have a memorable opening sequence.

There is a reason the filmmakers spend so much time and effort in crafting memorable opening sequences.

The human brain has an inbuilt BS filter. It will refuse to register any new information unless it feels it is worth recording.

How many times it has happened to you that you met someone at a party and forgot his name within a minute! This is because your brain didn’t feel that it’s worthwhile remembering that name and simply deleted the info.

The same principle applies when you are making a presentation. You need to start your presentation with something that resonates with your audience.

Some of the strategies that are proven to be effective include:

Quotes: Everyone loves a good quote. Using a powerful quote is a great way of creating an emotional connect.

Statistics: Statistical facts are a great way of opening a presentation. This strategy is relevant if you are addressing a particular problem and offering solutions in your presentation.

Story: Stories are probably the most powerful weapon in your arsenal. Opening with a great story can keep your audience glued to your pitch.

Media: Use a relevant video, audio clip or even a picture.

A word of caution. Be relevant. Never use a strategy just for the sake of it.

Tip#4 Organize your information

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Duh! Right?

But tell me honestly did it ever happen to you that you are in the middle of a presentation and wondering what the hell is going on! My guess will be; plenty of times.

It’s not enough if you are simply transferring your information to the presentation. You need to chunk your information in a logical manner. Your presentation should have a clear ‘beginning’, ‘middle’ and ‘end’.

Allow the information to flow from slide to slide with minimal text and more visuals. At times, you may not have an option but to accommodate a lot of information in a single slide. In such a scenario, patterns come handy.

You can visit sites like Yahoo Pattern Library and Pattern Tap for inspiration. Power Point’s ‘ Smart Art’ feature is also a good option for converting boring bullet points to something more engaging.

Tip# 5 Polish it up

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The most common excuse that you will hear about badly formatted presentation is, “I don’t know; I’m not a designer.” Well, the thing is you don’t have to be one.

There are people out there who have already solved this problem for you by making quality designs and visuals available on the Internet. All you need to do is to keep your eyes and mind open.

Here are a few guidelines that might help.

Use quality visuals: Don’t use the first image that comes up in your Google search result.

There are two problems with it.

First of all, the images that you find in a Google search are mostly copyrighted. It may land you in trouble if the particular publisher is sensitive about copyright issues. Instead, look for places where you can find free to use images. I’ve provided a list of resources at the bottom of this post.

Secondly, a lot of these images are overused. If you use the same images that everyone uses your presentation will end up looking like everyone else’s.

For example, take the concept of ‘collaboration’. Whenever it comes up, you’ll see people using the image of two people shaking hands. Or take the word team. The most commonly used images will be a group of mixed race people standing in a folded hand stance!

Can you think of something different to depict these concepts? Something better? (Please share your ideas in the comments section.)

Use Icons: Icons are very powerful and are virtually free. You can intelligently combine icons and text to create your own graphic elements.

Experiment with Fonts: You don’t have to limit yourself only to ‘Arial’. There are plenty of beautiful free fonts out there that can transform your slides into something wonderful.

Use a Colour Scheme: You don’t have to use 10 different colours just because you want to make your slides vibrant. Instead, select a few colours in the beginning and stick to them. It is fairly easy to do using Power Point’s design options. If you need something advanced use Adobe Kuler.

Tip#6: Close Strong

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If you are working in the online industry, you already know the importance of having a solid ‘call to action.’ Studies show that people like to be told what to do next. Same goes while creating and delivering presentations.

Summing it Up

There is five part web series called ‘Everything is a Remix’ produced by Kirby Ferguson. This series examines the idea of creativity and shows how nothing exists in isolation.

There is plenty of inspiration out there. All you need to do is remix. Remixing is not copying; it’s about getting inspired by the idea and coming up with something entirely new.

So, go out, explore and keep creating amazing!

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