Business communication expert, Graham Shaw, explains how small business owners can best use visuals during presentations, and how to avoid some classic mistakes.
1. Using only electronic means of presenting
- Ignores other powerful methods.
- Slides can become a repetitive format.
- Predictable – almost everyone does it.
Sketch key messages/graphs/model or diagrams ‘live’ as you speak – on flip chart or whiteboard
- Start with blank sheet and build the picture gradually.
- Use simple lines, shapes and symbols – you don’t need to be great at drawing.
e.g. A stick figure balancing on a high wire can convey the message; ‘There is no safety net’.
- The moment you make a mark their attention is captured.
- Building the picture gradually makes your message memorable.
- Informal style – a refreshing change.
2. Feeling there must be a slide for everything they say
- Results in numerous slides.
- Lack of variation in style.
- Unnecessary – you are there to explain so you don’t need it all on slides anyway.
Use slides only where they make a positive difference
- Ask yourself; ‘Do I really need a slide to explain this point?’
- Use other methods e.g. story or anecdote.
- Think of yourself as the presentation, not the slides. Use slides in support not as the main focus.
- Fewer slides to prepare.
- Your presentation will feel lighter and easier to absorb.
- More chance to connect directly with the audience.
3. Showing too many slides with text
- Bullet point slides tend to look very similar.
- But the brain enjoys and remembers things that are different.
- Therefore this impedes ability to remember.
- People become tired trying to follow the presentation.
Minimise the number of slides with lines of text – use more graphics
- Use e.g. pictures, diagrams and charts – hand drawn or electronic.
- Where text is used keep it to one key message, or several bullet points.
Victory, achievement, goal
e.g. A simple graphic of a stick figure at the summit of a mountain can represent achievement, victory or goal. Such a picture is easily hand-drawn.
- Ideas are easier to absorb.
- Your message will be memorable – the ability of people to remember pictures is almost limitless.
4. Speaking whilst people are reading your slide
- People process information perfectly well in verbal or written form but not both at the same time – concluded in a study by the University of New South Wales.
- People find it difficult to read text whilst the presenter is explaining it.
- It becomes draining quite quickly.
Give people time to glance through text before getting their attention back and speaking
- Keep quiet for a few seconds as you first show the slide – people will take it in.
- Cut slides with text to a minimum.
- Use minimum text per slide.
- Audiences find it easier to listen.
5. Not making the key message crystal clear
- A lot of information can bury the key message.
- Information alone often fails to connect emotionally.
Make your key message a visual metaphor
- Write your key message – e.g. ‘It is a very competitive market’.
- Think of a metaphor to encapsulate it – e.g. sharks hunting for food.
- Rewrite the key message metaphorically e.g. ‘We are in shark-infested waters’
- Think of suitable picture e.g. shark’s fin above the waterline.
- Draw it or find a suitable graphic.
We are in shark-infested waters.
- Key point engages the senses.
- It has impact.
- It is memorable.
6. Making it a passive one-way experience
- Not varied enough.
- Attention wanes – e.g. the glazed look.
Ask a question before you show a slide
Asking questions creates curiosity. Questions engage the brain and even rhetorical questions work well.
- “I am going to show the results of three main competitors. I wonder if you can guess which is which?”
- “The next slide has the three most common complaints from customers. See if you have experienced any of them.”
- “Here are three proven ways to double our profit. Which do you think is the most achievable?”
- People are involved.
- They enjoy it.
- Creates variation.
7. Leaving a slide showing when talking about something else
Perhaps someone asks a question unrelated to the slide you are currently showing.
- The slide can detract from what you are saying.
Press ‘B’ on the keyboard when using PowerPoint
- Pressing ‘B’ results in the screen image disappearing.
- To make the slide to reappear, press ‘B’ again.
- Increased flexibility.
- Enables audience to focus better.
Enjoy applying the techniques
You will know which of the ideas apply best to yourself. Enjoy having a go and see what works best for you.
Graham Shaw is author of The Art of Business Communication (published by Pearson) and founder of Vision Learning.