Presentation Zen

How many times have you sat through a really bad Powerpoint presentation? Probably way too many. In an effort to prevent you from diving into Facebook during your last three weeks of the semester, we’ve put together some tips to make you (and hopefully your classmates) more engaging presenters.

Know Your Audience

The purpose of your presentation is most likely to convey some kind of information to a certain group of people in a way that will educate and/or convince them of something. With this in mind, there are a few questions that you should ask yourself when designing a presentation. WHo is my audience? What do they value? What kind of knowledge about this topic can I assume that they possess? From the perspective of someone who is not as familiar with my content as I am, what background information do I need to include? What are the key points that I want them to remember? How can I engage them in processing the content that I’m presenting? These questions will help frame how you present your content and engage your audience.

Choose Your Tools

There are a ton of presentation methods out there, and each of them has strengths and weaknesses that you should consider when preparing a presentation. Software like Keynote and Powerpoint offer tons of tools to create beautiful presentations with interesting animation and transitions. Online tools like Google Docs allow you to easily share and collaborate on presentations. With Prezi you can create an engaging visual journey that helps you to tell a story and provide context. Even the old school flipchart can be an effective presentation tool that incorporates audience input and allows them to co-create with you. While proficiency in each of these tools is useful, knowing which will be most effective for your audience, content and presentation style is much more important than producing a flashy presentation. Ultimately, the visual aids are meant to augment your deliver of the presentation, not a script that you read and from which you occasionally deviate.

Less is More

Everyone has done it – filled a slide with bullet points and paragraphs and then read, almost verbatim, what was presented on the screen. If you manage to avoid the text overload, maybe you included a rich diagram that contains all of the nitty-gritty details. Either way, you’ve created a “data dump” situation in which the audience is unable to absorb your information and misses your key points. When we mainly receive information through two channels: visually and verbally. We also have a limited ability to absorb new information in a short time. Finally, we need a mental framework on which to place new information and to integrate it into what we already know. By including fewer details on your slides and relying more heavily on images and simple diagrams, your audience can connect your verbal information with the visual aspects of your slides, easily prioritize the information that you want them to understand, and have a memorable image to support retention of your main points.

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