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Make your point!

(The message is the point, not the Powerpoint!)

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............... Many times, in school, in clubs, in business, in life, you have to stand up in front of a group of people and make a presentation.  You may be explaining something, selling something, demonstrating something, teaching something, protesting against something, doing it for sheer entertainment. Whatever you are doing, you are trying to get a message across. 

Presentations are made more interesting and understandable when you use visual effects to illustrate what you are saying.  Powerpoint (and similar software) have made this a lot easier in recent years.   You can easily add those visual aids,  you don't have to spend too much time creating your graphics and effects, and you don't have to worry about the mechanics or the technicalities of producing them. 

But admit it!  You have seen some awful presentations over the years! 

Have you ever stopped to think about what makes them so awful? 
Have you ever asked yourself, do you do the same things in your presentations?
You have also seen some excellent presentations. 
Have you thought about what makes them so good? 
Is there anything you can learn from the good presentations to make your own better?
In this guide, we consider several aspects of presentation style and technique: 
   the message you want to put across,
   the design of your visual aids,
   the way you deliver the message, and
   a few other things to think about.
The Message is Vital!

If you haven't got anything to say, what are you doing up there? 
If you have got something to say, then the message is the point, not the Powerpoint! 

If you have the choice, choose a subject which interests you.  Don't be frightened to show your enthusiasm to our audience.  If you let them know you care, they will be more interested in what you have to say. 

Organize your presentation.  You need a beginning, a middle, and an end. 

   The beginning should be short. Grab their interest, tell them why they should be or will be interested in what you are going to tell them, or tell them why YOU are interested.
   The end should be short.  Make sure they know you have finished - use a signal such as, "To sum up...."  Tell them what you have told them.
   The middle part is where you say what you have to say, explain and illustrate it.  The middle should be the longest part of your presentation.
Just think of the three parts of a presentation in this way: 
Tell them what you are going to say. Tell them what you want to say. Tell them what you've told them.

Make sure there is logical flow to what you are saying.  Make a storyboard to get the points in order.  Keep showing how the points you are making contribute to the whole message. 

Consider your audience - how much do they already know?  If the subject is likely to be new to most of them, you may need to set it against the background of what they probably know already.  You may not be able to go too deeply into the subject.  You may need to keep the language simple and not use too much jargon or too many specialist terms.  Don't forget to explain the specialist terms as you go along. 

If the audience already knows something about the subject, you will be able to go more deeply into it.  You can use more complex or more specialist language. 

Consider your audience. If you are trying to change existing attitudes then you may need lots of examples and illustrations, and need to be prepared for awkward questions! 

Rehearse!  Rehearse for length and timing.  Rehearse so you know what you are going to say. Rehearse so you can alter the language if it sounds awkward - what looks good on paper often sounds wrong when spoken, it may not even be comprehensible! Rehearse so you know what comes next. If you can, rehearse to an audience. 

What they see is what they get!

Your message is important.  So too are your visual aids.  Give them point, avoid powerpointlessness. 

(Powerpointlessness: a term made popular by Jamie McKenzie; it indicates unnecessary use of Powerpoint and its effects in ways which seem to make the powerpoint the point of the presentation when it should be your message which is the point!)
Use the slides to make your message, to emphasize the main points. 
If you can, avoid a lot of text on screen. If there is a lot of text on your slide, your audience won't be able to read it because it has to be posted too small to read.  Your audience won't read it because it becomes difficult to read for very long. Your audience won't be able to read it and listen to you.  As a rule, avoid text smaller than 20 point - unless you have made a handout of your slides that the audience can read as you go along.
Prefer bullet-point notes to make your points, one word or one-line summaries of what you are talking about. 
  Use the slides to make your message, to illustrate your points.  Use pictures, graphs, tables and similar visual visual aids. Don't forget to give credit to those whose quotes or thoughts or graphics or sounds you have used; the credit need not use the same size font as the rest of the slide, but it should be there for those who want or need to know.
   Make sure the visuals, including the text visuals, add to what you are saying. Make sure they don't distract or detract from what you are saying.
   You can create some wonderful effects with Powerpoint. Avoid the temptation unless they really do add to what you have to say.
   Do the sounds and the clip art and the transitions and the animations really add to your message - or do they distract?
   Avoid graphics which distract. Avoid unnecessary animation. Avoid flashing graphics or blinking fonts. Use the same font throughout, if you can.
   Check your spelling!  A misspelling on the projection screen is much more obvious than one on your computer screen.  What's worse, it distracts from your message, detracts from your authority.

   Check your desktop (especially if you are using your own laptop).  A picture of your favorite pop star or a picture of your feet may be fun when you turn on your machine at home - but is this what you want your audience to see?
   Turn off your screen saver, especially if it might distract from your message.  If you are using Microsoft Office, turn off your Help-mate.

   Start your show with a title slide.  It lets the audience know you have started. It may sum up the message of your presentation. It gives the audience something to look at while you get yourself started, get over your nervousness.
   Make sure the audience knows when you have finished! A simple way of doing this is to present your title slide again, or to give a short bibliography, or an URL where more information can be found.

If you can, get set up in the room you will be presenting in.  Check the projection!  Can your slides be clearly seen from the back of the room?  Does the text merge into the background and become unreadable?  Red print on a black background may look good on your computer screen - but it may be unreadable when projected onto a large screen.  Be prepared to change your background color! 
........  (Is that a lot of do's and don'ts?  Don't forget the introduction to this piece: think about the awful presentations you have sat through, think about what makes them awful.  A lot of their awfulness almost certainly comes from the use of FX which are ineffective, which don't add to the presentation, which take away from it!)  

YOU too are part of the message!

The way you deliver the message is important.  If you show interest and enthusiasm, your audience might be persuaded to share your interest and enthusiasm.  If you sound bored and uninterested you haven't got a chance!

   Take your time, don't rush, however nervous you are.  Give the audience a chance to hear and take in and understand what you have to say.  Try to get off to a firm start, try to keep your voice firm and steady all the way.  If particular people in the audience make you nervous, avoid looking at them if you can;  if you do look at them, smile - don't let them see your nervousness.  As your confidence increases, look at them more often!
   If the room is large, look at someone towards the back of the room, and talk to them.  This helps you project your voice, makes sure you can be heard at the back.  But try not to shout!  If you have a microphone, you won't need to speak loudly at all.
   Watch your audience, watch their reactions.  If someone is straining to hear what you say, talk a little louder at that person. If they laugh at a joke, wait until the laughter dies down before going on.
   Stand firm, don't keep shifting from one foot to the other, don't keep fiddling with your tie or your hair.  These distract, take your audience away from what you are saying, and what they are seeing on the screen.  If you cannot rehearse in front of friends, try rehearsing in front of a mirror.
   Do NOT just read your slides.  You might read the occasional one or two, especially if there is a lot of text and it is posted small, but these should be the exception.  If the text is large, assume your audience can read it, is reading it.  So don't just tell the audience what they already know - or can read on screen.
   As you change slides, give the audience a chance to read the slide, then use it as a prompt or series of prompts to explain how the slide adds to what you are saying.
   If you are working as a team, make sure each member of the team is as rehearsed as you.  Make sure each person knows what they are going to say and when, to avoid repetition, and to avoid leaving things out altogether.
Practicalities: a few other things to think about.
   The size of presentation may be important, especially if you create it on one computer, but need to use a different computer for your presentation.
   If the presentation is small, you may be able to fit it on a 1.4 Mb floppy disk. If it is large, you may need a series of floppies, or even a CD-ROM, to get the presentation off your computer and onto the projection-computer.  Are you going to transfer your presentation to the computer hard-drive, or will you run it off the floppy or the CD-ROM?
   If you are intending to transfer it to the hard-drive, a few checks may be necessary.  Check that the computer has the same platform as yours, macintosh or pc or linux or whatever.  Check that the projection-computer has the software you need.  Check that the presentation will - and does - run on this computer.
   If you have your own lap-top computer, it might be worth thinking about using it on the day.

   If you are using sound for effects or for illustration, make sure the host computer has a sound card and loudspeakers.
   If you need a live internet connection, make sure the host computer has one.  Make sure you know how to get connected - passwords may be necessary.  Think hard: do you really need an internet connection?  Live connections can be slow, sometimes they do not connect at all.  If the internet pages make an essential part of your presentation, consider downloading the pages in advance, or making a copy of the screen and making a slide.
   If you are using other people's work, write to ask for permission to use their work. This is ESSENTIAL if your presentation will be posted on the internet, or published in some other way.  Whether or not the presentation is published, make sure you give credit to those who helped you along the way and gave you your ideas.

   Technology is notorious for letting you down, usually at the worst possible time.  Apart from live internet connections, other things go wrong: the computer won't boot, the floppy won't load, you commit a Fatal Exception Error.  It may be as simple as a lack of blackout in the presentation room, simple - but enough to white out the screen.  The more important your presentation, the more important it is to have an alternative means of presentation, or to be able to continue without any visual effects at all.  Just in case.

   Don't be so over-awed by the computer that you forget other means of audio and visual effects.  Instead of, or as well as, the computer, you might use an audio or a video cassette recorder, or a slide projector or an overhead projector.  You could make your own posters. You can pass objects around the audience or make a static display.

   If you can, have a buddy on hand, someone who can help if things go wrong (or can go for help while you continue), someone who can hand out the handouts at the proper time, someone in your audience who you know is friendly, someone who can let you know when your time is nearly up, someone who can help you tidy up afterwards.
   If your presentation is part of a series by different people, and you have a timetable to keep to, it is especially important that you finish on time.  You will think it very unfair and unhelpful if the speaker before you over-runs, and you cannot get your presentation set up to start on time. The presenter after you will be equally upset if you over-run!

To sum up...
Presentation can be great fun.  It can be very exciting and very rewarding. 

It can also be a BIG turn-off, for you and for your audience.  Sometimes it takes just as much time and effort to put together a poor presentation as it does to make a good one. 

If you think about the terrible presentations you have had to sit through, you will realize that many presenters fail because they have not thought about some of the guidelines presented here. 

Think about your own style and your own preparations. You can do better.  You will! 

Have fun, and good luck!!

John Royce 
1 December 2002


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John Royce, BA, MLib, ALA
Library Director, Robert College
Arnavutköy, TR-34345 Istanbul, Turkey.

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It was last revised on 23 January 2003.