Creating Powerful Presentations

Many of us have created presentations for one occasion or another, but are we doing them well?  Are they actually engaging our desired audience(s)?

When creating truly engaging face-to-face or online presentations, a best practice is to include more memorable graphics while the text works to summarize the main idea or topic.  People learn more when presented with a picture-only presentation with a narrative versus text-only with the same narrative.  Within seconds of exposure, pictures beat sentences and words for helping recall.  When people are shown a hundred photos, they can remember 90% three days later and 63% of the images after a year.   One will receive 6 times better recall for information that is presented both orally and visually.

So, how do we retrain ourselves to create powerful presentations? The presentation should consist of 3 parts:

  1. One complete sentence that summarizes each of the main concepts,
  2. A narration of the content (either pre-recorded or presented in real-time), and
  3. Graphics that emphasize your message.

First, stop using bullets!  Do not let PowerPoint tell you how to present information.  This may be the most difficult hurdle because we have been conditioned by PowerPoint for years to use bullets.  Bullets make slides too complex, and they enforce the concept of presenting content in sentence fragments.  From my experience, sentence fragments can be easily misunderstood.  Research also shows that students perform better on assessments after previewing content delivered with complete versus bulleted sentence fragments.  So, when adding text, keep it to one complete sentence that summarizes the message you are trying to convey.  Use your words wisely!

Second, you are the most important part of the presentation!  Your narration is a vital piece of the presentation – not the text on the slide.  When you speak, do so with energy and enthusiasm. Enunciate and pronounce your words clearly.  You may want to consider writing a script to help keep you focused on the main ideas which will keep you from rambling.  Should you choose to pre-record your presentation, make sure you have a quiet area to record.  This will help ensure the recording is of a decent quality with no distracting features such as humming or audio clipping of certain letters such as “P”, “T”, etc.  Adjusting the microphone levels appropriately will also help ensure your audio is of the best possible quality.

The third part, is to use graphics that emphasize your main point or idea.  When using graphics, go BIG.  Try to make the images full screen, and use real photographs versus clipart. There are search techniques one can implement to filter Internet searches for high resolution photos, and ones whose copyright allow for you to use them without the author’s permission.  If you opt to use transitions, aim to have a transition occur for no more than 45 seconds per image.  Be sure to choose images that are not distracting so that they do not mislead the audience or compete for the viewers’ attention.   Research shows that most people’s attention span is around 10 minutes.  If at all possible, consider limiting your presentation to that time frame to ensure that you are maintaining the audience’s attention.  If the topic lends itself to longer than 10 minutes, consider “chunking” the videos into sections (i.e. part I, part II, etc.)  Another study also shows that it takes significantly less time present the same content via a video lecture versus a face-to-face lecture.  For example, the average high school face-to-face lecture is 37.8 minutes, when that same lecture is recorded, the average time is 10.5 minutes.  Providing video lectures to our students actually give us more time for classroom learning activities.

Presentations using tools such as PowerPoint can be extremely effective if you use a few research-based strategies. Remember to keep your presentation to 10 minutes or less if possible.  Then, remember that your audience will recall full sentences and striking images used to emphasize your points.  Finally, recognize that your delivery can make or break the effectiveness of your presentation.  With this approach to presentations, your next one will surely be more engaging.


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