Power up your presentations

Recently, while sitting at a financial services industry event, a young guy next to me turned and whispered: “If that presenter puts up another PowerPoint slide with 10 bullet points, I’m going to fire a bullet in his direction!”

While I totally understood his pain, I suggested that perhaps a more constructive way of making his point about the overuse of bullet points was to mention it in his evaluation at the end of the conference.

“It won’t make any difference” he replied. “It’s always been like this.”

Everyone has sat through a dull presentation. The speaker might be highly respected and hugely informed.

But if their presenting style lets them down then no-one in the room will enjoy themselves.

Many in the insurance industry are called upon to make presentations, whether at client pitches, staff meetings, conventions or professional development days.

Luckily, there are a host of simple ways to make your presentations more engaging, starting with overhauling how one uses slides, using simple methods to break the standard routines.


Getting to the point

As a presentation skills trainer, I’ve been raving on for years about the misuse of PowerPoint at conferences and professional development days.

I’m not alone. There is a large and growing movement overseas and locally to get presenters to present differently, using photos, stories, interacting and engaging with the audience.

Despite this, the bullet-point problem continues to get worse, not better. Anyone who has attended a conference any time in the past 25 years knows exactly what I’m referring to.

I don’t hear too many delegates walking out of a presentation saying: “Excellent presentation, great presenter, but I could have done with some more PowerPoint slides.”

But PowerPoint itself (or Apple’s Keynote) is not the problem. Instead, the problem arises when presenters show slide after slide, each containing endless identical- looking, bullet-pointed paragraphs, followed by another 10 presenters who do exactly the same, for two days solid.

And even worse, some presenters feel that there is value in reading the entire content of the slide out loud to us, word for word, like Kindergarten story time.

I remain to be convinced that this is (or ever was) an effective way of learning. PowerPoint as a presentation tool took off in the early 1990s and now, 25 years later, it is still the tool of choice for most presenters. Sadly though, it is rarely used effectively.

Even worse, some presenters feel that there is value in reading the entire content of the slide out loud to us, word for word, like kindergarten story time.

Show, don’t tell

One of the main reasons presenters load huge amounts of text on to their slides is that for many of them, their slides are used as their notes, a reminder of exactly what they wish to talk about and in what order.

“No need to be nervous about forgetting the content,” they think, “because I can have it all up there on the screen to guide me.”

But this ignores the key element of any good presentation; namely, it’s not about you, it’s about the audience and what is best for them.

What is best for the audience is that they are kept involved and engaged while they are listening to you deliver some key messages.

What is not best for them is to read everything you are saying on screen.

Putting it all up on the screen is like going to watch live theatre and having the play’s script projected up on a screen while the actors deliver their lines from the stage. It makes no sense.

When presenting, if you need notes to remind you of your points, have a summary (containing all the dot-points you need) on a piece of paper or iPad in front of you and refer to them as required. No need to subject your audience to your detailed notes on screen.

Used properly with a large word or two per slide or, better still, a large, sharp, high- resolution photo, it can have a strikingly effective impact.

If you insert a relevant 30-second video, use a bit of colour and highlight your key points, the slides can greatly assist your presentation.

A colourful photo of a shark or a man on a high-wire – or a photo from your last holiday of your child standing on a cliff face – is a much more interesting, engaging visual when talking about risk than a series of black and white dot-point paragraphs on a screen.

Similarly, when talking about flood levies, a series of photos of a recent flood or the aftermath is a far better way to capture your audience’s attention than PowerPoint slides listing the number of claims from policy- holders, estimated losses and the mitigation allocation from the last Budget.

After all, that is what you will be speaking about anyway, why do we need to read it all? It’s not about you; it’s about the audience and what is best for them.

It might take a little time to find the right pictures but the audience will appreciate the time spent. Of course, being a dynamic presenter involves a lot more than good slides.

Some of the best presenters don’t use slides at all.

Telling relevant stories or case studies, getting the audience involved in interactive activities, asking questions, appropriate use of humour if that comes naturally to you, using a prop, engaging your audience – all of these techniques are just as important to assist you getting your message across.

But at the very least, the next time you give a presentation, whether to peers or a potential client, give some thought as to how you can refine and reduce the mind-numbing effects of PowerPoint abuse.

If not, you might need to consider wearing a bulletproof vest.

NIBA 2014 Convention MC Andrew Klein offers brokers tips for livening up their presentations.