Give your audience what they want
Everyone’s been there—and maybe done that: standing in front of the room, facing your PowerPoint slides, reading all the words with your back to the audience.
Ooops! According to presentation expert Nancy Duarte, president and CEO of Duarte Design, that’s not only a snorer, but you’re also disengaging with your audience. “You have to look the audience in the eye and create a personal connection,” she says. “You have to be a content carrier and own it, and not be dependent on your slides.”
And Duarte should know. Her client list includes Hewlett-Packard, Google, Apple and Cisco, and she was responsible for the slides used in Al Gore’s Oscarwinning film An Inconvenient Truth. Plus, the Silicon Valley-based design expert is also the author of a new book, slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations, published by O’Reilly and released this past summer.
But giving the presentation is only one challenge—creating an effective one is the other. “The way people use PowerPoint today is destroying communication in business,” she says. “When you get an MBA, nobody teaches you how to communicate visually. There’s no Best Practices to date to use this tool to communicate really clear ideas.”
And communication is what presentations are all about, whether your goal is to persuade, inspire or inform. “People need to think that they’re spreading ideas and not making slides,” she says. Otherwise, ideas get ruined. “They lose their magnificence because of the framework called presentation. It’s not that the idea isn’t great, it’s the way the tool is used. It’s not supposed to be [utilized] as a visual aid,” she says.
That’s the premise behind her book, written after a 20-year design career and “a weird feeling in my stomach that if I didn’t do it, someone else would,” she says with a laugh. It’s a follow-up to Garr Reynolds’ Presentation Zen, an excellent resource “that covers the ‘why’ but not the ‘how.’” Duarte’s book delves into the principles of design, made simple, but it also presents case studies with examples such as chart makeovers and the “10/20/30” rule for PowerPoint presentations (a maximum of 10 slides, last no more than 20 minutes and contain no font smaller than 30 points).
According to Duarte, one of the most common mistakes people make, right from the start, is building out presentations for themselves, not for their audience. Before you even open your presentation application, she says, you should walk in your audience’s shoes, figure out what their needs are and what resonates with them. That gives you the basis for the remainder of your work. And when presentations are done well, she adds, they can become a platform and have a life after the event. “Some companies are delivering their presentations live, then boxing them up and packaging them,” she says.
“There are entire websites out there where you can download presentations—like ted.com, a repository of engaging presentations that go beyond the day of the event.” You can also go viral on slideshare.net (like YouTube for presentations), phones, online and the Web, as a way to capture the moment and take it beyond. “It makes your presenters feel you value them and value their time,” she says.
In other words, there’s no need for PowerPoints to be pointless. (oreilly.com; slideology.com).
Presentation guru Nancy Duarte offers these five theses of the power of a presentation:
- Treat your audience as king. They didn’t come to your presentation to see you. They came to find out what you can do for them. Success means giving them a reason for taking their time, providing content that resonates and ensuring it’s clear what they are to do.
- Spread ideas and move people. Creating great ideas is what we were born to do; getting people to feel like they have a stake in what we believe is the hard part. Communicate your ideas with strong visual grammar to engage all their senses and they will adopt the ideas as their own.
- Help them see what you are saying. Think like a designer and guide your audience through ideas in a way that helps, not hinders, their comprehension. Appeal not only to their verbal senses, but to their visual senses as well.
- Practice design, not decoration. Don’t just make pretty talking points. Instead, display information in a way that makes complex information clear.
- Cultivate healthy relationships. A meaningful relationship between you, your slides and your audience will connect people with content. Display information in the best way possible for comprehension rather than focusing on what you need as a visual crutch. Content carriers connect with people.