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10 Questions to Ask When Creating a Killer PowerPoint Presentation

10 Questions to Ask When Creating a Killer PowerPoint Presentation
Image credit: Shutterstock

As an entrepreneur, speaking at influential industry trade shows and conferences positions your products and services center stage, exactly where you want your brand to be.

When done right, showcasing your brand in a dynamic presentation can reel in new customers, attract capital and generate positive media buzz. When done wrong, well, just ask Michael Bay and the folks at Samsung.

Your PowerPoint (or Prezi or Keynote) presentation slides have to be spot-on. This goes for whether you're presenting at a big conference or for customers or colleagues. Not only do carefully planned slides help you stay on-topic, more importantly, they help you tell a memorable story that informs, engages and hopefully even inspires your audience to do business with you.

Here are 10 important questions to consider when crafting your next PowerPoint presentation:

1. What do I need to think about before designing my first slide?
If you start by opening PowerPoint and haphazardly typing bullet points, you're off to a rough start, says Adam Sigel, a Boston-based product manager at New York City-based streaming TV startup Aereo, and teacher of Skillshare's Slide Chi: Advanced PowerPoint Design/Workshop Class

Your first step should be identifying key messages, then creating a clear outline for their delivery, Sigel advises. "Focus first on a single memorable message that you want your audience to understand and what value your message will have to them," he says.

Also consider what your ultimate goal is. For example, is your aim in presenting to earn customers or strategic partnerships? Is it to broaden your industry influence or highlight new products and services?

2. How can I create a presentation that really connects with my audience?
Show them that you understand their needs by presenting a value proposition tailored to them and you'll make a lasting impact, Sigel says. This is something only you -- not your PowerPoint slides -- can do. "If slides alone could win you business, salespeople would just email them to prospects and say, 'Please return with a signed copy of the contract,'" Sigel says. If only it were that easy.

To reach your listeners, "connect with them in the way you connect with anyone else in your life -- with empathy and emotion," he says. Explain how your idea (or product or service) can improve their lives or work. Be careful not to come off too hard sales-y, though. Keep your tone conversational, informative and friendly, not corporate and stiff.  

3. How much textual content should I include?
There's no one-size-fits-all word count when it comes to slide text. "I've heard various rules about how many bullets per slide and how many words per bullet and I don't listen to any of it," says Sigel. He suggests using powerful single words, short phrases or clear and concise single sentences per slide, versus cramming slides full of trailing bullet points and long-winded paragraphs.

Remember that slides merely provide visual support for your talk. Filling them with too many words creates an audience of readers, not listeners. "If people are reading your slides, they're unable to listen to you, and they came to hear you."

4. How many slides should I have?
How many slides you feature depends on how much visual support you need for what you're explaining.

Sigel recommends using venture capitalist and business author Guy Kawasaki's 10/20/30 PowerPoint Rule: 10 slides presented in 20 minutes, with no font smaller than 30-point type.

Kawasaki suggests tackling the following topics in 10 short and sweet slides total, especially if you're addressing venture capitalists:

  • Problem
  • Your solution
  • Business model
  • Underlying magic/technology
  • Marketing and sales
  • Competition
  • Team
  • Projections and milestones
  • Status and timeline
  • Summary and call to action

5. How can I be sure that my textual slides are as efficient and high-impact as possible?
Start by just saying no to convoluted prefab PowerPoint templates. Instead, for every slide you make, Sigel suggests writing down a single sentence that captures the message of that slide. Next, circle the single most important word or phrase in that sentence. Then see how well your slide reflects your circled key word. What text can you omit to get to your point in fewer words? What can you move off of the slide and into your speaking notes?

You'll also want to boost the impact of your slides by varying their backgrounds, Sigel says. Mix it up and with a blend of solid backgrounds, subtle gradients and full-sized background images with the transparency turned up.

6. What types of images should I incorporate into my slides and why?
Studies show that visual information, when delivered well during a presentation, can capture and hold your audience's attention much better than if you use no images. Images also enhance information recall.

Pictures of faces are perhaps the most powerful presentation visuals of all, Sigel says. "People connect with other people, so I like to incorporate faces, hands, and other human elements in my slides whenever I can." High resolution images of your company's logo and products are also strong choices.

Whichever images you use, they should always be high quality and professional, never cheesy clip art. Some popular free stock photography sites to source top notch high resolution images from include Stock Free Images, Freerange and stock.xchng. Some inexpensive paid stock photo options are iStockPhoto, Fotolia and Veer

7. What about slide transitions? Should I go all-out with them or limit them?
It's best to use them sparingly, if at all, Sigel says. If you do use transitions, do so only to strengthen a visual metaphor or to show a process. "Too much pizazz and your presentation can quickly go from professional to school project."

8. Should I add audio and video elements to my presentation?
Yes, but tread lightly and carefully, Sigel cautions. He says that audio, video and animation features "tend to be the first to break when switching software versions, say from PowerPoint 2010 to PowerPoint 2013."

Sigel advises saving your presentation's audio and video files locally to the computer or USB drive you plan to use during your presentation. This eliminates most playback problems, like long buffering times due to a slow internet connection.

9. Should I use charts? If so, what kind?   
On his popular blog, marketing expert Seth Godin says the only reason to include statistics in a PowerPoint presentation is to "advance an argument." For example, if you want to parade impressive customer base growth over time, a simple, well-organized chart can help you make your point. Limit yourself to one story (or main point) per chart.

As for what types of charts to use, Godin states on his blog that he prefers line and pie charts (as opposed to bar charts) and suggests animating them for optimal impact.

10. What are some common PowerPoint mistakes and clich?s to avoid?
One of the worst offenders is reading all of the text on each slide, word for word. Some other offenses Sigel would like to see retired forever include: confusing charts, freaky fonts, animated text and SmartArt, which is neither smart nor art, he says.

Kim Lachance Shandrow is a senior writer at Entrepreneur.com.

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