Create powerful, productive meetings, every time...

Create powerful, productive meetings, every time...

At the heart of a typical meeting is usually a presentation – and that presentation is usually given using PowerPoint. According to a Microsoft estimate, (1) more than 30 million PowerPoint presentations are made each day worldwide – and that was over 10 years ago! It’s become a crucial business tool.

‘Crucial’, perhaps, but also widely loathed. You’ve perhaps heard the phrase “death by PowerPoint” that describes the feeling of having sat through a series of presentations – at the end of which, absolutely nothing seems to have been achieved.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Good presentations, well-delivered, can create engaging, productive meetings. Here are a dozen ideas.

  1. The first question to ask yourself is: do I really need to use PowerPoint at all? Do I – and my ideas – need to be the focus of the meeting? If the meeting is more about collaboration, a presentation can tend to stultify that.
  2. Let’s assume you’ve decided that, yes, a presentation is appropriate. Next question. What does your audience need/hope to get out of it? What information do they need to foster discussion – or make a decision? Poor presentations often start with “This is what I want to tell them” rather than “This is what they want to know”.
  3. Next: what is the goal of your presentation? How will you know it’s been a success (other than the other participants still being awake at the end)? What do you want your colleagues to take away from it – or be able to do as a result of it? Everything about your presentation should facilitate the achievement of that objective.

Note, by the way, that you haven’t even created your slides yet. A common error is to start feverishly creating slides before thinking through points 1, 2 and 3.

  1. But now it’s that time. Here’s the golden rule that’s broken far too many times – resulting in a mass attack of boredom, which does nothing for engagement or productivity. Keep it simple. Let me put that another way. Less is more. You have two choices: you can either have your audience read what you wrote – or listen to what you say. The more text on the slide, the less engaged with you they are.  Your slides are meant to be an aide memoir – not a script. Think bullets, not paragraphs.
  2. Here’s a great thing. If you’re not reading your slide, you’re facing your audience. And: there is someone at every meeting who nods in the right places, shakes their head in the right places, smiles at your quips. Take your cue from that person to make eye contact with everyone else. Engage with them. They’re looking at you, because you’re not reading your slide. They’re engaged and involved – active, not passive.
  3. And, if you minimise text, you’ve got room for images, graphs, diagrams. A picture is always worth a thousand words. Look hard at what you’re talking about, and ask yourself whether it might be better communicated in a form other than words. Break things up a bit.
  4. Here’s a subject on which the world is divided: to reveal, or not to reveal? PowerPoint allows you to expose your slide a bullet at a time. The thinking in doing that is that you want your audience to focus on just one part of the story at a time, until you’re ready to move to your next point. There’s no hard and fast rule. Do it when it makes sense – but like everything in PowerPoint, don’t do it just because you can.
  5. Let’s assume you decided not to use ‘reveal’. Don’t make the mistake of starting to talk as soon as the slide appears. You can guarantee, your audience isn’t listening (which is a shame if what you’re saying is important): they’re reading the slide. Allow them a little time to read your slide first.
  6. PowerPoint enables you to do all kinds of clever things with transitions and effects. Just because you can use them, though, doesn’t mean you should. Used sparingly, they can be effective – but over-using them is just distracting, and may convince your audience you’re trying to cover up for the lack of depth in your content. Engage them with your thinking, not your ‘creativity’.
  7. It’s likely you want to provoke interaction and discussion: that makes for the most rewarding, most productive meetings. A couple of tips. How about putting questions on your slides where you want to encourage feedback? Perhaps have a flipchart to hand: the great thing about capturing ideas on a flipchart is the spontaneity it confers on the meeting. And here’s something you maybe didn’t know. Press B on your keyboard, and the screen will go blank. Now, people are focusing on what’s being talked about – not on the slide. Press B again, and the slide returns.
  8. Last thing: your “get off the stage” slide. What is it that you most want your audience to be left with? What is it that, at the end of your presentation, they’re hoping to see/hear? That slide is how you’ll be remembered most.
  9. Well, actually, there’s another ‘last thing’. Don’t over-run. It’s unforgivable. Don’t blame the audience for interacting and engaging and causing you to go past your allotted time – you should have allowed for that. It’s no excuse.

Meetings can be engaging. They can be productive. They can even be enjoyable. Much of the responsibility for that, though, lies with you as the presenter. Never forget: PowerPoint doesn’t kill people – presenters do. 

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