Design a Better Presentation

We have all been there, the after lunch presentation that takes two hours, has 500 bullet points, and puts the most well intentioned person to sleep. Yet year after year, the standard Powerpoint snooze-fest continues. People keep filling slides with bullets in ever smaller font sizes and stand in front of everybody and read the slides to them.

My response: I don’t need you to read your slides to me… If you want me to read this stuff give me a printout and let me get back to work.

I would like to share with you today some ideas to take your next presentation to a new level. One where people pay attention, and actually look forward to the next slide. Here are seven points that will help your audience focus on what you have to say..

1. Start at the Beginning. Research has shown that our attention spans are getting shorter and shorter. With the advent of e-mail and the internet, our current attention span is now under 30 seconds. In fact, while web browsing it’s as low as 9 seconds. This means that you need to get your audiences’ attention quickly… or you will lose them. The start of your presentation must be focused and create interest. Hit them with your best shot. If you don’t get their interest here, the rest of the presentation will be lost.

2. Draw People In. The best way to create interest is to start with a quotation, a radical fact, a startling statistic or an unexpected visual. This isn’t going to be a boring presentation. You need to draw your audience from the comfort of their seats to the front edge. Here are three slide examples…


3. Outline Your Points. Once you have their attention, you need to present your information in a logical and organized fashion.. The middle of your speech is where organization is key. When designing, it’s usually helpful to put all of your points on paper, rearrange them in proper order and then eliminate anything that doesn’t add to the conversation. Taking a boring or off-topic slide out will increase the flow of your presentation and keep your audience focused.

4. Add Contrast. Nancy Duarte, in her great book, Resonate, makes the case that you need to add contrast to your presentation. You take what is and contrast it with what can be. As you make each point throughout your presentation, add some contrasting information. She provides a nice graph in her book of a well planned presentation. It looks like this…


5. Add Pictures and Graphics. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and that is really true in a PowerPoint presentation. When designing your slides try to have a main picture or graphic per slide and limit your text to one thought or point. Here is an example.


Instead of bullet points, using a powerful picture with one thought per slide adds interest and keeps your audience from falling asleep.

6. Close the Deal. When your presentation is almost over you need to close the deal by asking your audience to take action. You need to ask for the sale, the contract, or to consider your proposal. Just presenting facts without a close, is a waste of time. Remember this. Your close is what people will remember most. Make it compelling. Make it bright, big and bold. Make it stick!

7. The Focus is You. Like it or not, when you are presenting, the audiences focus is on you… not your slides. If you design your presentation with this in mind, people will follow along. If you just put up a bunch of text and read your slides, you have wasted your time and your audiences. If you If you lack speech skills, organizations like Toastmasters can help. Here are a couple of tips.

  • When you stand in front of your audience, stand to the right side of the screen (as viewed by your audience). Since people read from left to right, this will allow them to see your slide first and then focus back on you.
  • Use the b key in PowerPoint (or the blank button on the remote) to put up a blank screen. This will instantly bring the audiences focus back to you. Use this when you are telling a story, or making an important point and you don’t want the distraction of a slide behind you.
  • Always face your audience. If you can put your laptop on the lectern or podium where you can see it, you can put it in presenter’s view. This will allow you to see your existing slide and the upcoming one along with any slide notes on the laptop screen. This allows you to keep your eyes on the audience instead of turning around to read the screen. If you can’t put your laptop here, you can print out a sheet with your slides on it. I find that 6 to 9 slides per page works well. Having a small pocket mirror on the lectern allows you to see the screen without turning around, so you know what slide the audience is currently viewing.

To make this more fun, I will give a copy of Nancy Duarte’s book, Resonate, to the person who has the most painful Powerpoint story of a presentation gone wrong and leaves a comment below.


resonate-bookI will give a free copy of Nancy Duarte’s book, Resonate, away to a lucky reader who takes the following steps and comes up with the best response.

1. Leave a Comment Below: List out in a few sentences the most painful PowerPoint presentation you have ever witnessed. This can be a story of you as the presenter or as an audience member.

2. Share this post on Twitter or Facebook: Just copy and paste

@success2you has a contest to win a free copy of @nancyduarte book, Resonate at

into your Twitter account and post.

We also have a new Facebook Fan Page for Success Begins Today that has some great resources for you and some great conversation starting. If you find it helpful, please click the Like button.

On Saturday, July 30, 2011, I will select one lucky person, from the comments left on this post, who comes up with the Most Painful PowerPoint Presentation, to win the book. I will announce the winner on the blog and by e-mail.

Good luck!

Question: What has been your most painful Powerpoint experience?


  1. says

    The most painful was a classical 20 lines per slide presentation regarding the new immigration law in Portugal (back in 2008). 90 everlasting minutes presented by someone who almost sure had only started using powerpoint 2 days before and never had spoken to such a large audience. The most funny part was the “where do i put my hands?” syndrome. ;-)

    • John Richardson says

      Yes… the “where do I put my hands” syndrome. I have seen a lot of unique approaches to that one!

  2. says

    A speaker at a conference I attended gave a PowerPoint presentation that I can only describe now as “legendary,” and not in a good way. As she began her presentation, it was obvious that all of her slides were bullet pointed in small font and that she was going to read every bullet point of each slide. As time progressed, she realized that she was running out of her allotted time, so she started speeding up the reading of each slide, and when she realized that was still not fast enough, she started blazing through slides, skipping some entirely. By the end, she had turned her back to the crowd and was looking up at her projected presentation, just skipping from slide to slide, not saying anything until she reached the end. By that point, several people had left the room and many who had stayed were either groaning or laughing. It was the most painful thing I’ve ever witnessed. I vow to never be in that position. Would love to get a copy of Nancy’s book to help.

    • John Richardson says

      Wow, Scott, I’ve been in that same presentation… Painful to say the least. It sounds like she copied and pasted her 20 page document directly into Powerpoint… arrgggh.

  3. says

    NOTHING puts me to sleep faster than a presentation “straight from the powerpoint”. In my speech classes in college, it was always frustrating that, no matter how much the professor would say NOT to outline the speech on the slides, people would still do it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *