Better (Online) Presentations in 5 Steps

The first in a series about online presentations. By Tim Hon. Posted Oct 7, 2010.

We’ve all been there − been forced to listen to a terrible presentation while day dreaming about killing the power to the entire building. For a generation, we’ve grown up with PowerPoint, and now, we have a generation of bad presentation-givers. Disagree? You might one of them; most of us are without knowing it. Seth Godin, a marketing and presentation guru, got so fed up he even compiled a book on it.

In an era of online presentations, making eye contact and reading your audience presents a large hurdle. It’s even more critical that the speakers’ delivery and visual aids work as a team. 

Why is PowerPoint so bad?

Most PowerPoint presentations are mind-numbingly dull and ineffective because PowerPoint encourages bad habits. It guides users into creating a presentation like a high school essay: outline form, topic, bullet, bullet, bullet. Logical, but boring and ineffective as a visual aid. Slides are loaded with long titles, a lot of text, and lots of bullets − but people can’t read and listen at the same time! You already know this, yet somehow still think more than 6 words on a slide is OK. Why? Because everyones doing it![1]

PowerPoint has become the speakers crutch and centerpiece of today’s presentations, yet it is the speaker who should be the main attraction (and has much more to offer). Visual aids are supposed to enhance, support, and direct the audience back to the speaker. If most of the speech is written on the slide, guess what? Nobodies listening.

Imagine two speakers, each one standing in front of one of these slides:


Which one is are you paying attention to? Which ones makes you think: what is this person going to say next? How does this image tie in to the subject? Are those kids safe on the cliffside? The slide on the right helps make the presentation interactive. The slide on the left, well, I already know what he’s going to say, so I’ll check my phone for missed calls.

Yes, this example may be a little extreme. I’m not saying use zero text in your slides, I’m just making the point between detracting from, and supporting a presentation.

OK, text is bad, now what?

No, text isn’t bad, bad habits are. Cramming too much text into a slide is just one of them. A great presentation has much to do with with the process of planning. I’ll go into more detail about these in following posts, but for now, here are those five tips I promised:

  1. Create a handout (for the end) − This is a big one. Don’t try to get smart and use the same slides for your presentation as the ones for a “take home” non-narrated document. Terrible idea. A slide makes a terrible document, and a document makes a terrible slide.[2] Create a “leave behind” note page, or summary. Tell your audience you will email it to them at the end. This does two things:
    1. It eliminates your craving to include every fact and figure you can think of in your slides, and
    2. It allows the audience to focus on you and not worry about taking notes.
  2. Get emotional − Create slides to demonstrate emotional proof of your speaking. They should reinforce, not repeat your words. Save accuracy, facts, and charts for the handout. If you can show a slide that invokes an emotion that links to the words you are speaking, you will create an anchor for those facts to be recalled later.
  3. 6 Word Max − Do you want them to read or listen? If this is a presentation which you will be speaking, don’t distract them away from your core message. Remember the handout? “Never put more than 6 words on a slide. EVER. There is no presentation so complex, that this rule needs to be broken.” [3]
  4. What’s your point? Why should I care? − Those are the two questions going through your audiences head throughout your presentation. Ask yourself these questions over and over as you create your presentation. Presenters are usually so close to their material, the question of why the audience should care, seems obvious, when it may not be. [4]
  5. Tell A Story − Don’t spew out facts and reasons, tell a story. Everybody loves stories. Pick a friend, and practice your story with a 30 second time limit. If you can’t convey your central point in an “elevator pitch” test, don’t even think about starting to work on your presentation yet. Find your absolute central point first, then go from there. [5]

What do you think? What are the main differences you find with presenting in person vs. online? Here at Vyew, we are learning how to be presenters of our own product, and we still have a ways to go. Got any more tips? What tricks work for you? Leave a comment.

Next: Continue to “Crafting a Clear Message


This article was inspired by an awesome book:
Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds. It’s highly recommended!

  • [1] “PowerPoint could be the most powerful tool on your computer, but it’s not, it’s actually a dismal failure. Almost every PowerPoint presentation sucks rotten eggs.” (Reynolds 11) Steve Jobs once said the computer is “the bicycle for the mind.” A bicycle multiplies your own power. Reynolds argues that PowerPoint has become a “car for the mind, with prepackaged formulas that make your ideas soft.” (Reynolds 47)
  • [2] “Slides are slides. Documents are documents. They aren’t the same thing. Attempts to merge them result in what I call the “slideument.” The creation of a slideument stems from a desire to save time…. Intentions are good, but results are bad.” (Reynolds 68)
  • [3] Take it from Seth Godin – create slides that reinforce your words, not repeat them. (Reynolds 20)
  • [4] “It’s hard enough for presenters to find their core message and express it in a way that is unambiguously understood. But why does it matter? This is where people really stumble. This is because the presenter is so close to his material that the question of why it should matter simply seems obvious, too obvious to make explicit.” (Reynolds 62)
  • [6] “Can you pass the elevator test? …This exercise forces you to ‘sell’ your message in 30-45 seconds… True, you may never have to, but practicing what you would do in such a case forces you to get your message down and make your overall content tighter and clearer.” (Reynolds 64)

Photo Credits: Alisdair, OliverAlex

Updated: February 20th, 2011 · Tags:

Comments (3 Responses)

  1. Darlene says:

    In 6 words or less, Ponderful!


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