How IT Can Create Great Business Presentations

Sep 11, 2015
9 Min Read

“Death by PowerPoint” isn’t funny anymore to those who are confronted on a regular basis with the grim reality of what a truly terrible presentation looks like. They’re boring, they’re confusing, they’re schizophrenic – and often just plain ugly. As organizations strive to align business and IT, more technical folks without the PowerPoint chops of a marketing director are being asked to present. An expert offers a clear roadmap on how to get better. Really, really better.

Michael Baldwin says we’ve been in a “downward spiral” since the first “spectacular” presentations were made with cave drawings 32,000 years ago.

Since then, we’ve been subjected to boring slides cluttered with too much information and confusing or irrelevant graphics delivered by someone who is clueless as to why the audience appears to be sleeping with their eyes open.

Now Baldwin, a former executive with Ogilvy & Mather New York and winner of numerous copywriting awards, is providing a blueprint of how even the most technical or complicated information can be delivered so it grabs an audience’s attention –and boosts the presenter’s career.

“When you’ve got a lot of data or information to present, don’t feed it to the audience with a firehose. You have to allow them to get their head around things,” he says.

That means you can’t cram information on a slide and then just read it to the audience. The slide is supposed to enhance the presentation, which means you shouldn’t use boring stock photos or charts that fail to convey a message clearly and quickly, he says.

In his new book, “Just Add Water,” Baldwin gives suggestions on how to provide more simple, compelling presentations.

The key, he says, is to start with what you’re going to do to drive your audience from point “A” to point “B.” That means you’ve got to look at things from the audience’s perspective and then determine where you want to take them.

It all begins with what he calls a “crystal clear objective,” such as convincing the CIO that putting citizen development into play will help IT cut its application backlog, or your boss that your department deserves new equipment.

To accomplish that, you need to focus on:

  1. A story.  As a presenter, you may get anxious when it comes to making a presentation. But Baldwin says that by sharing the things you’re passionate about, you can eliminate nervousness and help make a strong connection to the audience. “Stories have the power to plant situations, scenes, characters and images in people’s minds that they’ll never forget,” he says. If you don’t have a personal story that applies to your presentation, Baldwin suggests talking about subjects that you’re passionate about.  (One of Baldwin’s clients, a World War II history buff, used a battle story to illustrate a point.)
  2. Ensuring the logic flows. Slides must flow logically from one to the next, each building upon the one before it. Baldwin suggests beginning with index cards, and until that’s done, “don’t go anywhere near a computer” and try to craft a PowerPoint. If you can shuffle the index cards around and it doesn’t make a difference, then you’re not building on your point.
  3.  Using the right images. While images make a message more memorable, stay away from bad clip art or “images for images’ sake,” he says. “Many times a video clip can make a point more memorably than anything else.”
  4. Being funny. “Using humor can change the mood of an entire audience,” he says. If you’re about to convey some very technical or complicated knowledge, for example, you could share a story about your first experience with a fax – or the person who thought the CD slot on an early computer was a cup holder. If you’re unsure about an attempt at humor, try using an image, quote or video clip to do it for you
  5. Providing illumination.  Firing off facts or numbers at audiences can quickly become mind-numbing – and forgettable. Think about how much more impact it has, for example, to say that “the BP oil spill released enough oil into the Gulf Coast to fill the entire Empire State Building” rather than “The BP oil spill released 20,000 barrels of crude oil into the Gulf Coast.” Look for ways to put big numbers into context for the audience if possible.
  6. Repeating.  Talented speakers know the value of repeating their main point, such as Martin Luther King Jr. with his “I have a dream” speech. If you want people to remember something, be sure to tell it to them more than once, Baldwin says.

In addition, Baldwin says you must make sure that your slides reinforce your message. If your audience is hearing you say one thing – and your slide is saying something completely different – their attention will be divided and the message lost. “A good slide is like a billboard; the audience should be able to read it as if they were driving by at 65 miles per hour,” he says.

He stresses, however, that the real detail of any presentation should come from the speaker – not the slide. You are the person the audience came to see, so you should be the one to impart the most information.

If you can’t seem to cut down on the information packed onto a slide, think of your slide as a house, he suggests.  If “that house was on fire, what three points would you run into to rescue in order to salvage the meaning of the slide?” Baldwin asks.

At the same time, you can’t become so enamored with your slides that you fail to look at your audience. Just as your local TV weatherman gestures at the maps while looking directly at the camera (the audience) you should do the same. “You should be referring to your content 10% and relating to your audience 98% of the time,” he says.

Finally, “never let them see you click” as you move between slides, Baldwin says.

“Great presenters are as subtle as a sphinx when they click from one point or one slide to the next, ensuring there are no distractions between them, their content and their audience,” he says.

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