How to Create a Good PowerPoint Presentation

(HINT: It doesn’t start with slides!)

Lots of folks are going to disagree with me about this, but I think PowerPoint (or Keynote, the Mac equivalent) is a wonderful tool for mapping out a presentation. Used correctly, PowerPoint helps you:

  • Capture your ideas,
  • Shuffle them into sections,
  • Flesh them out with (minimal) words and images, and
  • Take charge of the pace of your talk.

These are solid advantages. So…

Why Are Most PowerPoint Presentations So Bad?

I blame it on a misunderstanding of what PowerPoint is.

It should be a tool for organizing your thinking; but to many people, slides are the place where you store everything you know about a topic, in hopes that all of it will somehow make sense later. (I discuss this at more length in Chapter 2 of my public speaking workbook, Speak Like Yourself…No, Really!)

You can’t blame people for this approach, because it’s what they’ve seen their colleagues at work doing.

But the process of creating a good PowerPoint presentation doesn’t begin with slapping data points into slides.

Like everything else in public speaking, it begins with some thinking about what you’re trying to accomplish and what your audience (this particular audience) needs to know.

5 Steps to a Presentation You’ll Be Proud Of

The examples below come from a recent training I did for the Brooklyn Public Library (BPL)’s amazing Business & Career Center staff.

1. Understand Your Goals

Goals that differ, even slightly, are going to lead you to different types of presentations, as these PowerPoint presentation titles show:

  • “Competitive Research” (your goal is to inform the audience about competitive research)
  • “You Can Master Competitive Research” (the goal? to motivate your listeners)
  • “Brooklyn Public Library’s Great Competitive Research Tools” (one of your goals for this talk is to promote the library)
  • “Five Ways to Research Your Competition” (this is a how-to talk; your goal is to show people how to take action)

2. Analyze Your Audience

Ask yourself,

  • Is this audience familiar with my topic?
  • Do they have strong feelings about it?
  • Where do my goals, and theirs, intersect?

3. Find Your Key Message

If you could say only one thing about your topic to this audience, what would it be?

Write down that sentence; it’s your key message.

4. Select Your Sections

Your talk can probably be organized into three sections (sub-topics) that support your key message and help to make your larger point.

If your talk, for example, is about “Five Ways to Research Your Competition,” your sections might be:

  • Why research your competitors?
  • What resources the library offers
  • How to use the five most important research tools

(In this approach to organizing sections, you’re moving from the general to the specific; for lots of other possibilities, see Speak Like Yourself…No, Really!, Chapter 3.)

5. Connect the Dots

Good speeches flow smoothly between ideas, slides, and sections. You want to entice your audience to follow you from the idea you’re currently discussing to the next one.

PowerPoint presentations are great for connecting the dots in this way. Just use this simple trick for creating transitions.

PowerPoint Presentations Don’t Have to Suck

Audiences are eagerly awaiting PowerPoint presentations that are good. And if you follow the five steps described above, your talk will be one of them!

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