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Tips and Tricks about Presentations


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This post was written by
Scott Schwertly

Scott is the Founder and CEO of Ethos3.

Up until a few weeks ago, your loyal correspondent lacked significant experience presenting (all forced public speaking forays in high school aside), but then October 20th arrived and with it, BarCamp Nashville. I learned the true ins and outs of creating a presentation while working on my “Your Presentation as a Backpack” presentation for the event. And so, as they say on The Real World: Here’s what happens in presentation design when people stop being polite… and start getting real.

Brainstorm & Break Up

First things first, opening PowerPoint should not be the first step in presentation design. Rather, the first step is much simpler, and that is to figure out what you want to say. Use whatever application, device or means you wish. Regardless of what that is–– Evernote, pen & paper, a Word doc, etc.–– create a rough outline of what you want to contain in your presentation. That could mean simply jotting down main ideas, compiling a list of important data, or saving design inspiration.

Quick tip: During this brainstorming stage, try to organize your presentation like an English 101 paper: Intro, Thesis, Main Points, Review, and Conclusion. And remember that it’s always compelling to break information into threes, so do what you can to achieve that.

Organize & Outline

Once you feel like you’ve brainstormed enough, and you have all your ideas laid out somewhere, it’s time to create a formal outline. I prefer to work in PowerPoint when outlining a presentation, so that I can assign text and images to each slide, and then use the notes section to remind myself of what I want to say. Remember, you always want to be in a situation where you can speak to your slides, so use little text and big visuals. (Disclaimer: My slides were rather text heavy during the section when I discuss Up in the Air because that part originally lived on its own as a SlideShare deck.)

Quick Tip: Create your entire outline– text, image suggestions and notes–– before you begin designing the presentation, so that you have a good idea of how everything is going to flow and work together. It’s good to have the end product in mind before even beginning to design, so you don’t waste time.

Practice Early & Often

Unexpectedly, most of the changes I made to my presentation occurred during the first couple of times I practiced, before hardly any of it had been designed. I could tell right away when my pacing was off, when I needed more slides, and when I could completely cut out a section of slides. After my initial practice, I knew I needed several more introduction slides, and I knew I could delete an entire slue of slides that weren’t necessary.

Quick Tip: Practice a few times right after you’ve created your initial outline, so these kind of incongruities become obvious from the beginning. You’re not doing yourself any favors by waiting to practice until after you’ve designed the entire thing. You don’t want to waste time designing slides you don’t end up using, so practice before you even start the design process.

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