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Monday, January 22, 2018

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Final Words on Better Presentations
Colin Rowan

November, 2009

In my last post on PowerPoint, I focused on one area – color. This week is broader. Consider these 10 steps to better presentations.

10. Learn the hidden tricks.

Pressing the “B” key during a slide show turns the slide black. “W” turns it white. Pressing any number key and return from within a slideshow will take you to that slide number, so you can hide “extra slides” that you’re not sure you’ll need. Learn to use PowerPoint’s “Presenter’s Tools,” which displays the upcoming slide on your laptop while the audience sees the current slide. You can find all of these in PowerPoint manuals, but you have to dig around a bit.

9. Come prepared.

Buy a $50 remote clicker (I use Kensington’s) so you don’t get tethered to your computer. Arrive early to set up. Know the room layout and feel confident about asking about moving things around to “fit” the presentation. If you use sound, bring your own speakers. Bring your own power strip and keep an extension cord in your car if you present often.

8. Kill your logo.

If you need to, include it on the intro slide. But including it on every slide is not only branding overkill, it takes up lots of room and distracts from the message. As one friend told me, if you need to show your logo on every slide for the audience to remember who gave the presentation, you have a branding problem that your logo won’t fix.

7. Use video.

Use it wisely, but use it. It breaks up the monotony of a lecture and attracts attention. I often use it for comic relief, but it also serves a very functional role. PowerPoint is pretty picky about which format you have to use, so stick with .WMV files. Keynote will play just about anything.

6. Ease up on the animations.

My personal goal for animations is “gracefulness.” I want them to look smooth and almost unnoticed. Dancing bullets and swirly photos don’t usually do the trick for me.

5. Look them in the eye.

Eye contact makes the audience pay attention and puts you in charge. It helps the audience empathize with your message. And it just plain looks good. Presentations should be rehearsed enough that the script doesn’t have to be “read,” so this takes time and practice. But you will notice immediately the renewed impact your presentations have when you look up.

4. Ask the audience to do something – during the presentation and after.

This is really two ideas. First, I mean that the audience should have some type of participatory role in the presentation. Ask questions. Invite questions. Secondly, all good presentations are a transfer of an idea, not just a transfer of information. What do you want the audience to do when it leaves? Tell them.

3. Don’t use bad cheap photos.

Use good cheap photos. Google Images offers scores and scores of public domain photos (check for photo rights unless you don’t fear copyright lawyers). is a cheap place to find professional quality graphics and photos for a few bucks. And please, please, don’t use Microsoft’s clip art. Your cause is better than that.

2. Don’t end with Q&A.

Just as the first thing you say when you begin should be prepared and memorized, the last idea you leave the audience with should be a message from the heart. Have your Q&A session, and then look them in their eyes and leave them with a parting thought or call to action. If you end with Q&A, your inevitable last line will be “No more questions? Well, thank you for having me.” And everyone will leave sad.

1. Tell them stories.

As a friend of mine says “No one ever marched on Washington because of a pie chart.” Telling stories – above all other PowerPoint tips you will ever learn – is the single most impactful change you can make to your presentations. Everyone has seen bullet point slides. Everyone can read your website or brochure to learn about your budget or mission or “success metrics.” But stories have the ability to get people to CARE ENOUGH to hear your message. If you want to move people, tell them your stories.

Colin Rowan owns Rowan Communication, Inc., an Austin consulting company that helps non-profit organizations hone their messages, tell better stories and build stronger communication plans. He is conducting a one-day training session in Austin that will cover this and other core communication topics on December 10. He can be reached at


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