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Business Presentation: Slides & Visuals

This lesson is a part of an audio course Nail Your next Business Presentation by Emily Carlson Goenner

Visuals are an important addition to many business presentations. Visuals add interest and increase retention rates when used in presentations. You've heard the phrase, a picture is worth a thousand words—but maybe you didn't know the brain processes images about 60,000 times faster than it processes text. Further, studies show an audience is more likely to remember your presentation three days later if you include images. Visuals are important because our brains are wired to process images. Images can be more memorable and more powerful than words alone, so they enhance your business presentations.

The lessons in this course so far have been aimed at helping you develop ideas and content before you get to create the visuals. This is a method that is usually more memorable than starting by opening a slide program and entering information into the slides. You want the visuals to serve your needs, not have your ideas and plans to be shaped by the computer program.

People call the slides or visuals that accompany oral presentations by a variety of terms, PowerPoint, slides, slide decks, and more. Many computer software programs are available for creating slides, from PowerPoint to Google slides, to Slidio, to Prezi. All of the tips discussed in this lesson and course can easily be applied to any computer program, and I don't recommend one over the others.

In some presentations, you won't need visuals. A business meeting or status update won't require slides, but, if you want to make an impact and have your audience remember your points, you need to include visuals with your oral presentation.

According to some studies, there are about 30 million presentations every business day, and many are bad. A lot of bad presentations have to do with PowerPoint, which holds about 95% of the presentation software market. PowerPoint is famous for its bullet-point slides, which are boring, and slides full of text. To nail your next business presentation and create visuals that have an impact follow these 5 tips.

Use images whenever possible. Your job as a presenter is to figure out a different way to share your information. How can you make it interesting and exciting? How can you depict your information in a more memorable way? Find powerful pictures, icons, graphs. Use or create images that reinforce what you're saying in a visual way. If you're talking about the value of clean water, put an image of a glass of dirty water and a glass of clean water. If you're talking about retirement planning, maybe use two images, one of a person who planned successfully, and one who didn't. What does that look like? Happy vs sad? Relaxing vs working? Comfortable home vs homeless?

You can show information in other ways, too—you might you icons instead of words, you might use a word cloud or pie chart of a line graph instead of listing statistics. You might include a quote—and give the audience time to read it, or show a short video. Ways to share information are endless.

If you have a statistic you want to emphasize, consider making one number fill the entire screen. Steve Jobs did a great job of this in his introduction to the iPad speech. He showed Apple's revenue of $15.6 billion, by putting $15.6B on the screen—just the one number.

This is your chance to be creative.

Make your image fill the entire slide. Think of art, music, video, icons, symbols—Appealing to a variety of senses will keep your audience engaged.

Slides full of text are called, by slide designed, slide menus. They are a combination of documents and slides. These are the slides that include long blocks of text. The audience does not want to read the slides, or information—they can hear you give the information. If you put up a text on a slide, the audience will probably read it and not focus on you. This is the easiest way to lose your audience's attention.

One idea per slide—a common mistake with slides is putting too much on each slide. Slides are what designers call Billboard or glance media. Like driving down the freeway and glimpsing a billboard, your audience should get the main idea of your slide in 3 seconds or less. They should not read long blocks of text. If you have many ideas, use many slides. It is better to use more slides rather than have many ideas on each slide.

Consider color and font—when making your visual presentation, you want to be creative, but not crazy. Consider the topic of your presentation and select colors that are appropriate. A nature-based talk might use greens and browns, while a talk about Home Depot might include the orange from its logo. A financial talk might not include many bright colors, but a marketing pitch for a baseball team might use light and color. Select a color theme and use tints and hues within that family for consistency.

Consider the fonts you use. Fonts have moods and feelings—some are serious and plain, others are vibrant, lively, exciting. The height, width, weight, slope, and style of fonts all vary and can be used for emphasis during your presentation. Select 2-3 fonts that express the tone of your presentation and use them throughout. The font is a great way to add interest to your presentation. In addition to the variety of fonts available in most programs, many free fonts are available through a quick online search.

Think creatively—sometimes you will need slides to enhance your presentation, but sometimes you won't. Think about what will be best for your presentation. Would a handout be more effective so the audience can follow along, take notes, or fill in the blanks? Would a prop be useful? Demonstrating a product will have more impact than a bullet point slides listing its benefits. Can you write or draw as you talk to show a process or gather information? Maybe you need a whiteboard or projector you can use to display your writing as you talk or to gather ideas after you let the audience think or discuss some ideas. Could you ask audience members to show something, or could you show a video? The more unexpected your presentation, in a purposeful and planned way, the more the audience will be engaged and interested in what you are saying.

Create a handout—one way to know if your visual presentation will be visually effective is to ask yourself—if I gave these slides to the audience, would they know what they mean? By this, I mean the slides should be simple enough that just seeing them will not provide all of the information from the presentation. If you want to create a slide deck to share, you will create a separate slide deck that includes notes. This is easy to do on many programs like PowerPoint, where you can include your speaking notes under the slides. Then, the audience will have both the content you shared orally and the visual image they saw during the presentation.

Many people ask how many slides they should have. Some people may have 20 slides in a 3-minute presentation, others will have fewer. The slide limit idea comes from busy, full slides that tire and audience. If your slides are simple images or visuals that reinforce your oral points, the audience will respond positively.

I have two tasks for you today. First, look up some examples of excellent slides on the internet. Telling you how to create slides is much less effective than seeing them visually. Search for Nancy Duarte or Gar Reynolds on YouTube or SlideShare. Search for How to Create great visual presentations. The resulting visual presentations and videos should give you visuals that demonstrate the tips discussed here and give you a visual idea of how these tips look.

Your second task for today is to work on your visual presentation—what types of visuals do you need? A slide deck, a whiteboard, a prop? Don't be fixated on only PowerPoint or google slides. Include a title, outline, signpost, and conclusion slides. Consider creating a separate file with speaking notes to share with the audience if asked.

With the visuals completed, you are nearly ready to present. In our next lesson, we focus on how to manage presentation anxiety.