Dreading your next team presentation? Not sure how to translate a virtual report into an in-person production? Or, vice-versa, struggling to transform a presentation you once gave to a room full of humans into a standout virtual performance? We’ve all been there—especially over the last two years when remote and hybrid work became the norm and project updates had to be delivered from behind a screen.
Believe it or not, PowerPoint is still one of the best tools to use for presenting online. Microsoft’s premier slideshow software may get a bad rap, but as a visual aide, it’s still the best way to engage meeting attendees and highlight your ideas. Of course, it isn’t easy—and virtual presentations bring up fresh challenges.
According to a 2018 Microsoft study, the average human being’s attention span is just eight seconds. Two decades ago, a similar study found that it was 12 seconds. That’s a precipitous drop—and the COVID-19 pandemic, along with all the attendant upheavals of the last four years, has probably shortened it even further.
In an online setting, when one person is presenting to a group of colleagues, it’s safe to assume that attention spans might be even shorter. It’s also harder to rely solely on body language to gauge someone’s interest. Yes, they may have their cameras turned on, and yes, they may appear to be looking at you. But that doesn’t always provide enough visual cues to know whether someone is engaged or bored.
How Can You Elevate Your Presentation from So-So to Excellent—and How Can PowerPoint Help?
1) Think visually. Even the most reliable colleague will lose interest if you present your ideas simply with big chunks of text. Remember that visual stimulation is important to capture your audience’s attention. PowerPoint allows you to add everything from still images to video clips to dynamic charts to animations. These can transform a boring slide deck into a true multimedia experience. Focus on variety, so that different types of content are interspersed throughout your slideshow.
Bonus tip: Embed video clips directly into PowerPoint to avoid having to toggle back and forth between windows and counteract any Internet bandwidth or streaming issues that might arise.
2) Don’t reinvent the wheel—use built-in templates. Many people start working on their PowerPoint and immediately become paralyzed by the sheer number of choices. Channel your energy from the beginning into finding a template you like with eye-pleasing background colors. Then, take advantage of that template’s pre-built features like bulleted lists, image alignment instructions, and matching font types and sizes. This adds a baseline of consistency that helps your presentation get off to a good start.
Bonus tip: If your organization has a branded PowerPoint template, or you have a copy of a colleague’s pre-existing slide deck you like, get permission to save your own copy of it—then edit the content, images, and structure of those pre-built slides to retain the same visual style.
3) Practice your presentation in advance—and focus on the “big reveal.” The most effective way to make a presentation stand out—in person or online—is to start it from a place of confidence. That means practicing beforehand so you can smooth out any awkward transitions and build up to any important moments. Clearly state the overall objective of your PowerPoint—what action do you want viewers to take when it’s over? Also, pay attention to any “big reveal” or pivotal turning point that might draw your listeners in immediately.
Bonus tip: Move the climax of your presentation earlier—even try to focus on it near the beginning if you can. This will help you capture your colleagues’ attention quicker and keep them emotionally invested all the way to the end.
4) Build in time for questions. Traditional presentations are typically viewed as an event where viewers sit back and listen to an expert make a pitch. But when we’re all just faces on a screen—or newly returned to the physical office and still remembering what it’s like to meet in person—this approach can feel outdated. Break free from the standard monologue and try to build in opportunities to give your audience a chance to interact with your presentation. You can ask direct questions of specific individuals, add icebreakers at the beginning to make everyone feel more comfortable, or solicit feedback after presenting data.
Bonus tip: Practice and plan your presentation in advance so you can surreptitiously add some subtle structure to these otherwise spontaneous moments.
5) Use Excel data to better visualize your presentation. This requires a bit of advanced spreadsheet knowledge, but it can also add an excellent business-friendly look and feel to your slideshow by inserting charts, graphs, and diagrams. If you already have a chart built in Excel, you can copy and paste it right into PowerPoint. If you only have data saved in Excel, click Insert > Chart in PowerPoint, select the type of chart you want (column, bar, line, pie, etc.), then right-click it and choose Select data to coordinate it with the specific cells where your Excel data is saved.
Bonus tip: Once you have your chart in PowerPoint, customize it so it matches your template. You can change everything from the color scheme of the chart to the prominence of the lines and bars to the explanation of the data and axes labels.
6) Go easy on the transitions, animations, and sounds. Ever sat through an endless stream of headline fly-ins or excruciating fade effects? Don’t be that person when you build your next PowerPoint. Effects deployed over and over again can wear on an audience and distract them from your overarching narrative. Don’t let a misguided add-on take away from your strength as a presenter.
Bonus tip: Only share your PowerPoint window, not your entire computer screen, if you’re giving a virtual presentation. This keeps extraneous notifications and your disorganized desktop from adding distractions to your presentation.
7) Speak from the heart — not from the teleprompter. Entrepreneur and author Seth Godin says it best: “Slides should reinforce your words, not repeat them.” Think of the text written on your slides as entirely separate from the words you’ll speak during your presentation. An excellent performance is composed of far more than just intro slides, a closing message, and a bunch of filler in between. Make sure each slide contributes to your overall narrative and builds toward a final goal. Try to talk like you would at a business lunch: professional and polished, of course, but with a hint of humility to keep things honest.
Bonus tip: Use the Notes section of your PowerPoint slideshow to contain talking points or scripts you may want to reference. Then, use Presenter Mode so you can see these notes on your screen while viewers only see your actual slides.
The way we absorb information and start conversations is far different online than in a face-to-face setting. That’s why it’s so important to give extra attention to virtual presentations so that your message is captivating enough to hold a viewer’s attention.
If you need help with Microsoft PowerPoint, videoconferencing platforms, or other important applications, CMIT Solutions can help. We help our clients enhance efficiency and boost productivity with trusted advice, automatic software updates, reliable data backup, and so much more. Contact us today — we worry about IT so you don’t have to.