Ten Ways to Keep Your PowerPoint 2013 Audience Awake

If you have an audience for your PowerPoint 2013 presentation, you want them to be entertained — or at least engaged. Nothing frightens a public speaker more than the prospect of the audience falling asleep during the speech. Here are some things you can do to prevent that from happening. (Yawn.)

Don’t forget your purpose

Too many presenters ramble on and on with no clear sense of purpose. The temptation is to throw in every clever quotation and every interesting tidbit you can muster that is even remotely related to the topic of your presentation. The reason that this temptation is so strong is that you most likely haven’t identified what you hope to accomplish with your presentation. In other words, you haven’t pinned down your purpose.

Don’t confuse a presentation’s title with its purpose. Suppose that you’re asked to give a presentation to a prospective client on the advantages of your company’s new, improved, deluxe model ChronSimplastic Infindibulator. Your purpose in this presentation is not to convey information about the new Infindibulator, but to persuade your client to buy one.

The title of your presentation might be Infindibulators for the 21st Century, but the purpose is “Convince these saps to buy one, or maybe two.”

Don’t become a slave to your slides

PowerPoint makes such beautiful slides that the temptation is to let them be the show. That’s a big mistake. You are the show — not the slides. The slides are merely visual aids, designed to make your presentation more effective, not to steal the show.

Your slides should supplement your talk, not repeat it. If you find yourself just reading your slides, you need to rethink what you put on the slides. The slides should summarize key points, not become the script for your speech.

Don’t overwhelm your audience with unnecessary detail

On November 19, 1863, a crowd of 15,000 gathered in Gettysburg to hear Edward Everett, one of the greatest orators of the time. Mr. Everett spoke for two hours about the events that had transpired during the famous battle. When he finished, Abraham Lincoln rose to deliver a brief two-minute postscript that has become the most famous speech in American history.

If PowerPoint had been around in 1863, Everett probably would have spoken for four hours. PowerPoint practically begs you to talk too much. When you start typing bullets, you can’t stop. Pretty soon, you have 40 slides for a 20-minute presentation. That’s about 35 more than you probably need. Try to shoot for one slide for every two to five minutes of your presentation.

Don’t neglect your opening

As they say, you get only one opportunity to make a first impression. Don’t waste it by telling a joke that has nothing to do with the topic, apologizing for your lack of preparation or nervousness, or listing your credentials. Don’t pussyfoot around; get right to the point.

The best openings are those that capture the audience’s attention with a provocative statement, a rhetorical question, or a compelling story. A joke is okay, but only if it sets the stage for the subject of your presentation.

Be relevant

The objective of any presentation is to lead your audience to say, “Me, too!” Unfortunately, many presentations leave the audience thinking, “So what?”

The key to being relevant is giving your audience members what they need, and not what you think is interesting or important. The most persuasive presentations are those that present solutions to real problems rather than opinions about hypothetical problems.

Don’t forget the altar call

What would a Billy Graham crusade be without the altar call? A wasted opportunity.

The best presentations are the ones that entice your audience to action. That might mean buying your product, changing their lifestyles, or just being interested enough to do more research into your topic.

But the opportunity will be wasted if you don’t invite your audience to respond in some way. If you’re selling something (and we’re all selling something!), make it clear how your audience can buy. Tell them the toll-free number. Give them a handout with links of websites they can go to for more information. Ask everyone to sing Just As I Am. Do whatever it takes.

Practice, practice, practice

Back to good ol’ Abe: Somehow a rumor got started that Abraham Lincoln hastily wrote the Gettysburg Address on the train, just before pulling into Gettysburg. In truth, Lincoln agonized for weeks over every word.

Practice, practice, practice. Work through the rough spots. Polish the opening and the closing and all the awkward transitions in between. Practice in front of a mirror. Videotape yourself. Time yourself.

Relax!

Don’t worry! Be happy! Even the most gifted public speakers are scared silly every time they step up to the podium. Whether you’re speaking to one person or 10,000, relax. In 20 minutes, it will all be over.

No matter how nervous you are, no one knows it except you. That is, unless you tell them. The number-one rule of panic avoidance is to never apologize for your fears. Behind the podium, your knees might be knocking hard enough to bruise yourself, but no one else will notice. After you swab down your armpits and wipe the drool off your chin, people will say, “Weren’t you nervous? You seemed so relaxed!”

Expect the unexpected

Plan on things going wrong, because they will. The projector may not focus, the microphone may go dead, you may drop your notes on the way to the podium. Who knows what else may happen?

Take things in stride, but be prepared for problems you can anticipate. Carry an extra set of notes in your pocket. Bring your own microphone if you have one. Have a backup projector ready if possible.

Don’t be boring

An audience can overlook almost anything, but one thing they’ll never forgive you for is boring them. Above all, do not bore your audience.

This guideline doesn’t mean you have to tell jokes, jump up and down, or talk fast. Jokes, excessive jumping, and rapid speech can be unimaginably boring. If you have a clear-cut purpose and stick to it, avoid unnecessary detail, and address real needs — you’ll never be boring. Just be yourself and have fun. If you have fun, so will your audience.

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