People often ask how to make presentations more engaging, slides more professional, and meetings more productive. Countless books full of advice have been written to address each of these concerns, but none of those suggestions matter if you don’t have one thing: time.

The biggest mistake a presenter or meeting facilitator can do is waste their participants’ time. We’ve all sat through meetings we did not need to be in, and we’ve all been in presentations that we’ve wanted to sneak out of. Don’t be that presenter.

If you spend 1-5 hours implementing some of the guidance below, it will save 5-500+ hours in total. Sure, that means you have to carve out a little extra time in your already tight schedule, but your participants will thank you, you will add value, and be appreciated for creating meetings or presentations that catered to your participants. Most importantly, you will achieve the goal of why you’re presenting or running the meeting, which is unlikely to occur if you do not take the time to think about your objective.

Think about your audience and what they need/want to hear. Take the time to decide how to present, run a meeting, or design your slides based off of what they need/want. There are some suggestions of how to apply this below.

Presentations

  • In a presentation, your participants are often not forced to be there, so you want to be more engaging than you would be in a meeting.
  • In a presentation, participants want to walk away with tangible next steps.
    • Are you giving information? Give them ways to apply what you’re teaching. You can do this through tips, handouts, and examples.
    • Are you selling a product or pitching a service? Show them how it will make their lives easier and how to go about buying/subscribing. Tell them a story where they are the protagonist, so they can picture how much better their life would be with your product/service.
    • Are you reporting on facts, finances, or studies? Explain how the numbers effect your participants/the company and what is the take home message. Don’t just list data and figures but highlight the points that are relevant and explain why they’re important.
  • Budget an extra 3-4 hours at the beginning of a presentation to outline, review, and storyboard your presentation. This will automatically make your presentation more engaging, memorable, and persuasive.
    • Take the time to outline your content before you open PowerPoint, see where your gaps in content are, think about the order (we remember first and last most), and decide how to make your slides (or at least the most important ones) visual.

Meetings

  • In a meeting you have a goal to accomplish, and your participants should be there to help achieve that goal. That may be to give input, approval, or context. To make sure your participants in your meeting feel valued, create an agenda, so you do not go over time and need to create another meeting.
  • Think about what your goal is and how to achieve it.
    • Are you imparting knowledge, explaining a new best practice, or showing participants how to complete a process? Think about what your participants already know, explain how the new knowledge is similar and different from the old practice, and don’t get too nuanced or detailed.
    • Are you gathering information, asking for opinions, or getting approval? Make sure that your introduction and explanation is succinct enough to leave time for questions but detailed enough your participants do not need to ask unnecessary clarifying questions.
    • Do you have the right people in the room? Do you need all of the people that are in the room? Do not hold meetings that could easily be an email. Do not hold meetings where an individual only needs to be there for 5 minutes. In that case, invite individuals in only for the time needed.
  • Take 30 minutes to an hour before your next meeting to think about what your objectives are and how to best achieve those in the time allotted.
    • Create an agenda with time slots and stick to it. Doing this, will allow you to lead meetings that accomplish goals instead of wasting time.

Slides

  • Slides should be used to help achieve your goal. Slides should not be used to make your presentation or meeting prettier. They should not include tables that participants only need to see one cell. And, slides should not be used just because you feel like you have to use them.
  • Outline your content first. By doing this, you won’t have slides full of text, so your slides will immediately be more engaging without any extra work.
    • By gathering your content first, your slides will probably come last or almost last in your timeline, but not last minute.
    • Then, give yourself an extra 1-2 hours to design your key slides, you’ll have a slide deck that looks more professional, is more memorable, and enhances learning instead of contributing to cognitive overload.
      • Make your main message on each slide stand out. Do not fill the slide with pictures or clipart if that is not helpful to your message.
    • If you’re creating a keynote, plan to spend 15-30 minutes per slide.

Upcoming workshops on how to make presentations more memorable and influential: bit.ly/presworkshop

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