How to make the most of your slides in a business presentation

Dave Henson

By David Henson, Toastmasters International

As a business presenter you want to grab the attention of your audience, whether it’s a small meeting or hundreds of people on Zoom or in a conference room.  Your slides can be a great help in achieving this – when designed and used well. But, as many of us l have experienced, when they are used badly they can turn an audience off very quickly.

What can you do to become comfortable when using PowerPoint and what steps can you take you make your slide presentations effective?

Getting prepared and becoming comfortable with your slide deck

1. Take time to rehearse!

You do rehearse your talks, don’t you? Of course you do! And it’s even more important to rehearse when using slides. Put the presentation on your laptop and rehearse the talk moving through the slides so that it becomes second nature. When presenting with slides you’ve got one more layer of complexity to cope with, which is why I stress how important it is to rehearse fully before your talk.

I’d advise buying yourself a remote clicker (more technically known as a wireless presentation remote). They’re simple to use and allow you to control your presentation with the click of a button. Once again, rehearse using the clicker so that you feel comfortable with this too.

And what about the projector you’ll be using? If there is an AV team at the event – great; they will probably be able to sort it out for you. However, it may be your responsibility to set up and operate the projector, so get to know it before you start your talk.

2. Don’t make things over-complicated

Don’t put extra pressure on yourself by making the slides too complex. If you’re inexperienced at presenting with slides, then keep it simple. Stick to what works and what will enhance your message without making you break out into a sweat.

3. Get there early

So many times I’ve witnessed the situation where a speaker turns up on the night with the presentation on a memory stick and just 15 minutes to go before the meeting starts and then expects someone else to get their presentation working on a PC and projector.

You won’t win too many friends doing that!  If you need someone’s help to get everything set up then try to arrange for them and you to get to the venue an hour before the meeting starts so that everything can be set up and you even have time to do a quick final rehearsal before everyone else turns up.

4. Check the slides on the tech that you’ll be using

If you can, use your own computer. You’ll be familiar with it and know that your presentation runs on it with no problems.

If you can’t, then make sure that the presentation works as it should on the computer you are using. Again, getting there early is essential.

Also make sure that you embed the fonts in your presentation. This will ensure that the fonts will display correctly on the other machine.

5. Bring your own equipment

At the bare minimum you’ll need to have your laptop and remote clicker. But what else can you take so that you feel comfortable at the meeting?

I suggest taking along the connection cables such as an HDMI cable and a VGA cable as well as any connection adaptors that may be required.

When I’m presenting, I often take my own projector, stand and screen but that may be going a bit too far!

6. Don’t rely on the internet

If you’ve added YouTube videos to your presentation, then you’ll need to be absolutely sure that you’ve got a robust internet connection at the venue. Again, it’s always best to test this before the meeting and, if you can’t get it to work, drop it from the slide deck.

7. During your business presentation

Many people wrongly use their PowerPoint presentation as a prompt, which is why they often fill their slides with text. Avoid this at all costs! Instead, put your PowerPoint presentation into Presenter mode. This means you’ll be able to see the next slide that’s going to appear on the screen and any notes that you might have attached to the current slide.

Making your slides effective

1. Too much!

Don’t fill your slides with text or read from the slides. One of my mantras is – aim towards zero bullet points.

2. Be congruent

Make sure your slides are congruent with you and what you are saying; they should complement what you are saying and not clash. This goes hand in hand with not reading from the slide. The audience will suffer cognitive exhaustion as they try to read what you’ve written and listen to you at the same time.

3. Use RICE

RICE is an acronym that stands for:

  • Reinforce
  • Illustrate
  • Clarify
  • Explain

Use your slides to do one or more of these things; to reinforce, illustrate, clarify or explain a point you’re making in your talk.

And if you get to a point in the talk where a slide isn’t needed, just go blank – the screen that is, not you!

4. Slides are not handouts

And if you only remember one thing, remember this… If your slides work as handouts, then they don’t work as slides.

Your slides are ephemeral – they are just there to serve the audience for the time you are speaking on stage. If you’ve ever been tempted to utter the phrase “I’ve made all my slides available as a handout” then there’s something wrong with your slides. If you send your PowerPoint to someone after the talk and they can understand your talk from the slides, then they will not have served you as slides while you were talking.

Keep your handouts separate from your slides – they each have a different job to do.

Conclusion

The audience will be focussed on your slides during your presentation so it’s worth spending time to get a well-designed impactful set of slides. Make the most of them when you present, and you and your business will look good.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

David Henson is a member of Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. There are more than 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland. Members follow a structured educational programme to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings and time management. To find your nearest club, visit www.toastmasters.org

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