Sep 20, 2012

9 things to note before you open PowerPoint

What do most people do when asked to make a presentation. They open PowerPoint and then start thinking what to write. Even I have been a culprit of this in my early days as a presenter. Next time you have a presentation, before opening PowerPoint, make a note of these 9 things. You will do a much better job.

1. Are you spending more time on slide designing and less on thinking about what you have to say? Put substance before style. Prepare your content first. Have total clarity about what to say and how. Slide design, images, animations and templates are secondary and can be done later.

2. Your success depends on how well you think and not how well you speak. If you think well and know what to say and how to justify your arguments, most of your job is done. To do well, you need to think well. You are not bad at speaking. You speak all the time!

3. Have a goal for every speech/presentation. Why is the audience here? Have they come to learn, to be inspired or to be entertained? Find out the goal and fulfill it. Work towards when you are planning your content.

4. Respect your audience's time. 100 people in the audience sitting for 20 minutes is equal to 33 hours of their time. You should atleast spend 5 hours preparing. Do not waste 33 hours of time and insult your audience by not preparing. Most presenters do not prepare hard enough before a presentation.

5. Have a clear structure for your talk. What is the topic? What all can you say about the topic. Write down all the statements and arguments. Select five points which you feel most strongly about. Now remember these five and write it down. This is the basic structure of your talk. You will now make your slides, expand and talk in detail about these five points. Add a chart, use an image or say a story about these 5 points. Even if your slides get lost, you will be able to confidently talk about these 5 points. This is the main skeleton on which your talk is based. This is the clear struture of your talk. Come what may your audience will get what you came to say.

6. People have a limited attention span. John Medina says human beings can only pay attention for 10 minutes. When you are presenting, some people pay more attention and some less. Moreover, you can never have the full attention of people who are interested in your talk. There are so many things on everyone's mind. People will switch on and off. Hence you need to give them a simple structure (agenda) at the start and revisit it often. So when people switch back on, they can reconnect with where you are. Make it easy for people to switch back on.

7. Talk about what people care and they will give you their attention. Modify your topic to address audience needs. Know why the audience has come and what they want. If you are relevant to the audience, the audience will definitely listen to you. Take help of the event organisers to know what the audience is looking for. Talk to some members of the audience before the talk and you will have a better understanding of what they care about.

8. On every slide, before placing a chart or a photo or a table you need to ask yourself; 'Why is the audience watching this?'. Retain what is needed and remove what is not. Just because you like an image very much does not mean it should be shown to the audience. If the image is not relevant get rid off it. Have what helps you make the case.

9. Before accepting to speak at an event or conference, ask three questions: a) What does the organiser want from you? b) What does the audience want from you? and c) What are you capable of delivering? Many people are invited to speak at TED, Ignite, PechaKucha and many events and conferences. Never accept to speak at an event unless you have known the answers to the three questions. If you have already accepted to speak and have started preparing, stop by to answer these questions. You will do a much better job once you have these answers.

These tips have are from the book 'Confessions of a Public Speaker' by Scott Berkun. I have already written two posts about the same book. It is a very practical and useful book for any public speaker.

Read more:
Book Review: Confessions of a Public Speaker
12 tips to help you deliver a better presentation


  1. Hi vivek,1st point is only suited for me till now.i used to focus on my slides first and used to prepare the concepts last moment of presentation only.Friends used to tell best,nice,awesome ppt. But till now no one told me ur presentation is better also. can U tell me how to impress the auidence in a way that they can remember wat I am trying to convey them.

  2. hey
    your post has added value to the insights of presentations.please clarify on point Do we need our audience to know what they are expecting from the presenter or presenter must be aware of the audience expectations? looking forward for your reply.

  3. Hello Vivek,

    Thanks!! Being a M.B.A. student, I’ve much more presentations to give away to almost 100 audiences. Hence, your post helps a lot. I do have questions about the points that you shared here.

    Point 2: Your success depends on how well you think and not how well you speak.
    I believe that success of any presentation depends on how well we speak more than we think. In other words, “Thinking” is a pre-presentation job whereas “Speaking” is a presentation job. Most good thinkers, fail to present well (say, they feel shy) that leads to a failure in presenting their views.

    Point 5: Have a clear structure for your talk
    The idea of point 2 (Thinking precedes the talking) is contrary to this point 5 (where the emphasis is on Talking). I say, there should be a balance and equal weightage given to both of these aspects.

    Point 7: Talk about what people care and they will give you their attention.
    When we think about what people would care or like, we might lose confidence on our topic/speech. Not every audience shall be satisfied. Maybe, the presenter could adapt to certain techniques that keep the audience glued to his/her speech. Effective presentation is a success by itself!!


  4. Vivek,

    In continuation to point 9, I would like to add another point.

    This is a question that a presenter should ask himself/herself:

    What would I like them (audience) TO REMEMBER, TO BELIEVE, TO DO at the end of my presentation?
    This being the goal of the presenter, the presentation is definitely a success.

    Best wishes,

  5. @gurmeet

    The presenter must know what the audience is expecting. That's basic. Only when we know what is expected out of us, can we perform better.

    It is also a good practice to let the audience know what to expect from the presenter. If a you have been asked to speak on a topic, the organiser should check with you what you want to talk about. Then he can inform the audience what to expect. In such a case, the audience expectation is modified by the presenter.

    Hope this answers your question.

  6. @Loknath

    In order to make people remember what you have said, you need to be short and simple. Never try to impress your audience with complex charts and jargon. One simple trick is to run through your presentation with a friend. Present to him/her and check his/her understanding. Then modify your PPT and go for the real talk.

    If you want to help your audience remember, prepare a one page gist (summary) of your presentation and hand it over to the audience at the end of your presentation. Cover only main points in this summary.

  7. @Angelique

    Thanks for the questions. Your questions have really made me reflect back on the lessons of this book.

    Point 2: Your success depends on how well you think and not how well you speak.

    Scott Berkun argues in this book that, speaking is a natural thing and will not be a problem if you know what you have to talk. The fear of forgetting what to say will not arise if you have 'thought well'.

    You need to conquer stage fright however. Else you will have a tough time.

    I disagree when you say, most good thinker fail to present properly. When you think well, you really know what to say and how to say. Then you cannot fail. I would like to understand why you think so.

    Point 5: Have a clear structure for your talk.

    I see this point as a logical next step to Point 2. There is not disconnect. Once you have thought well, you will end up with a clear structure.

    Moreover, Point 2 does not mean poor speakers can succeed. What Scott Berkun says is this: People underestimate the power of thinking. Most of us think we are bad at public speaking. Most of us think we need to be 'great speakers' to be able to master the skill.

    He tries to bust this myth. Saying "Your success depends on how well you think and not how well you speak" does not mean only thinking is enough. To me it just means, stop focussing on 'speaking' and hence stop 'ignoring' the thinking part.

    Think well and it will help you to speak well.

    Point 7: Talk about what people care and they will give you their attention

    I totally agree that not everyone can be satisfied. However, if the people who matter are not satisfied then the presentation is a failure.

    Every presentation has an objective. Sales presentations should end up in sales. If you cannot satisfy the client, you are out of business. I agree you cannot satisfy everyone, but you ought to satisfy the majority to survive.

    You have also said, "When we think about what people would care or like, we might lose confidence on our topic/speech". Well, let me go back to my Ignite experience as a presenter.

    I am presenting on how to make a presentation. If I figure out no one is bothered about my topic, I will surely lose confidence. But if no one is bothered about my topic, then why am I speaking? Why will the organiser ask me to speak and why will I agree?

    I guess you need to take Point 7 as one more tool to help you get attention.

    You need to understand that these points are trying to help you present well. They are not the only truth or the last word. There can be other truths. These points are by no mean exhaustive.

  8. @Lavanya

    Very well said. "What would I like the audience to remember, to believe and to do at the end of my presentation?" You must start the preparation of your content with these questions.

    In fact, here is something you can check out. It is called a Presentation Brief. Before you start any presentation, you must answer all the questions contained in the brief.

  9. Hi Vivek,

    Very useful tips on making presentations. I have seen many presenters using humour to a great extent to get the listeners attention. How effective is it? Can you throw some light on that?

  10. @Stephen

    Humour is very effective. It is effective in breaking the monotony. It will not get you attention but it helps in retaining attention. Just ensure you are not forcing yourself to be humorous.

  11. Hello vivek,
    As a MBA student I got clear idea about making presentations through your blog. Your clearly mentioned about preparation and how to deliver successfully. But I need to know whether an innovative start of presentation attract audience towards a presenter and in what ways a presenter can grasp the attention of audience. And also help me with some tips to conclude the presentation successfully.

  12. @Manimegalai

    I am not sure what you mean by an innovative start. Do not do anything weird for the sake of getting attention.

    Getting audience attention is not very tough. If your content has quality, be rest assured that you will get the attention. All that is needed is to make the content relevant and useful for the audience.

    A rocket scientist speaking to school students has to customise his talk to suit his/her young audience.

    Remember these:

    1. We pay attention to things we care about. Things which are important to us.
    2. We pay attention to unexpected things.
    3. We do not pay attention to things we do not understand. That's why we must avoid jargon.

    I suggest you read the following post as well: