Tips for Better Presentations: A Q&A with VerdanaBold

person delivering a presentation

The trouble with searching for answers to questions about presentations is that the response is pretty much always the same: “it depends.” That’s because every presentation has unique factors: the audience, the presenter, when and where it’s delivered, who helps create it, and so on.

So when we received a wide range of questions at the conclusion of our recent IHAF webinar, we thought the best way we could help our fellow members was to answer a few of them for everyone’s benefit!

Chances are, you or your team have come across at least one of these issues. Read on as we address the presentation problems that pose the some of the greatest challenge. If you don’t find the answer to your question, reach out and we’ll try to help!

Question 1: Is there an optimal number of bullets per slide, slides per presentation, or overall presentation duration?

The length of your presentation and amount of content you include should vary depending on whether it’s an in-person, hybrid, or leave-behind presentation. Here are some guidelines for how to allocate your content most effectively:

In-person presentations should have the least amount of content on each slide, as your voice-over should do most of the work. This might mean an in-person presentation has the highest number of slides, as you want to spread out your content to keep the focus on you.

A hybrid presentation (for example, an online session) can include a bit more information on your slides. But again, be mindful that the more you write out, the less people will be listening to you. People tend to read ahead simply because the information is there. And the anonymity of a virtual audience makes it easy for their focus to shift elsewhere, so the best practice is to do everything you can to keep them focused on you.

A leave-behind presentation is essentially a version that you would not present at all. In fact, it’s more akin to a brochure than a traditional presentation. In this case, you can include much more content, as the intention is solely for the audience to read it on their own.

Question 2: Do you have any tips for maintaining a cohesive look when multiple team members collaborate on the same presentation?

There are a few ways to ensure consistency as you collaborate:

• First, task one person with overall ownership of the presentation. That person can take an initial design pass to set the general aesthetic and foundation, which provides guardrails for the rest of the team to work within.

• Next, you can assign people to work on specific areas of the document, rather than having everyone contribute a little bit throughout. Alternatively, your team can join forces to focus on one part of the deck at a time.

• The more specific you can be about who should be doing what, the more cohesive the final product will be.

Question 3: Have you found that any specific colors, fonts, or graphic elements (e.g., infographics vs. flowcharts vs venn diagrams) work better or worse than others?

In presentations, design should always follow content. Rather than focusing on what types of fonts or infographics to use, start by deciding what will best represent the content on your slide and the story you are trying to tell. These considerations can vary based on the audience, the format of the presentation, and even the desired outcome.

Question 4: Would you recommend any alternative platforms like Prezi or Keynote, or have you found PowerPoint (PPT) to be the best format for presentations?

We recommend using the program that you are most comfortable with, is easiest to share with your colleagues and audience, and won’t get in the way of your message and intended outcome.

Software is simply a tool and no program will make your content better if you don’t take the time to craft your message, refine your slides and hone your skills.

Question 5: How do you deal with “nervous presenters” who lean on the PPT as the script they use to get them through, resulting in copy-heavy slides?

There are a few ways to help people who struggle with nerves while presenting:

• First and foremost, practice your presentation. The more familiar you are with the content and the more you can deliver it from memory, the easier it will be to step away from reading the slides directly.

• Next, educate presenters on why it’s important to do more than just read off the slides. When people start to read ahead, they stop listening by default. This means they are less focused, less engaged and less likely to retain information.

• Positive reinforcement goes a long way. Help nervous presenters learn and grow, encourage them throughout the process and be the best cheerleader for your team.

• Finally, it’s important to understand and accept that nerves are normal. When you accept the way your body and mind respond to uncomfortable situations, you become better able to manage those experiences.

Question 6: Any advice when dealing with a client who doesn’t have time to discuss the project overview?

Sometimes you’ll just have to accept that people don’t understand the value of setting context at the start of a presentation.

An easy way to overcome this sort of challenge is to present the information in a different way. Instead of creating a “Project Overview” slide, find ways to incorporate that material more seamlessly into other parts of your presentation.

And if your client simply refuses to engage, you may have to respect their preferences and find a way to provide an overview outside of the presentation.

Question 7: What’s your take on Google Slides vs. PPT? We tend to deal with version control with PPT.

Both are excellent tools for different tasks. Google Slides is great for collaborative work like outlining your presentation, placing content and aligning stakeholders.

When it comes to the actual presentation design, PowerPoint offers more robust functionality. In addition, it is less likely to cause IT concerns for some companies.

If version control is your issue, your best bet is to assign specific ranges of slides to specific people, rather than giving everyone free reign to edit the entire presentation.

As with most things in life, clear communication is your best tool.

Question 8: Can you explain the main difference between an “in-person” and a “hybrid” presentation?

An in-person presentation refers to the material you present for an in-person audience. It’s designed specifically to act in partnership with your voiceover and should work to focus the audience’s attention on the presenter (or on key moments in the presentation). An in-person presentation should not be the same document you send to your audience once the presentation is complete. By design, the in-person deck isn’t meant to have every piece of information you shared.

A hybrid presentation can work as both an in-person presentation and as a leave-behind document. As a result, it has more information on each slide than its in-person counterpart. The tradeoff is that you lose some of the audience focus that comes from a true in-person presentation, but you’ll have an easy way to share the document after your presentation ends.

Question 9: Any tips for gathering content from subject matter experts (SMEs) in advance to reduce the time we spend thinning down content?

We use a couple techniques to source the ideal information for a presentation:

• Be very specific about what information you want from SMEs. If you ask someone about their product, you may get overwhelmed with technical details that aren’t relevant to the audience. But if you frame your request in terms of key takeaways, differentiators, primary benefits, etc., you can hone in on the essentials.

• You can also help SMEs understand the different ways in which that information will be used. For example, explaining the difference between a product brochure and a sales presentation can highlight what details are best suited to each format.

Question 10: If you are building and moving from one deck to another, I find it’s often easier to use an existing deck instead and just plug in the content instead of dragging slides. What is the best way in your eyes?

This comes down to understanding (and using) templates. We recommend copying and pasting content into a new template, as opposed to dragging in whole slides from one presentation to another. Full slides also retain the master settings from their original template, which is one reason your slides might end up messy and inconsistent.

Question 11: What would be your suggestion for the smallest point type size?

It depends on the type of document and where it will be viewed. For example, if you are creating a leave-behind document that is meant to be read later, then you can go down to 8 or 9 points depending on the font.

If it’s an in-person presentation or one that might be viewed on a mobile device, you should use larger type to enhance readability.

Our best practice is to test the content in the way that your audience will view it (as best you can), so you can understand what will be readable for them.

Question 12: Any specific tips for presenting creative concepts?

We’ve found that many people try to share creative concepts as though they were agnostic about the work. But if you are the creative team, your client is counting on you to share your expertise and not put the burden of choice solely on them.

Be a good steward of your team's efforts and ideas. Work to make sure you are highlighting what you think is effective about each concept and don’t be afraid to share your opinion on which is best.

Finally, don’t present anything you don’t want the client to choose.

We hope this Q&A roundup helps solve some of the presentation challenges that you and your organization face. If you’d like to learn more, you can contact us, or browse our blog for more guides on how to improve your presentations.

Thank you for reading, thanks to everyone who attended the webinar, and thanks to the IHAF team for letting us connect with our fellow members!

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