16 November 2014

One PowerPoint Secret That Will Drastically Improve Your Presentations

Estimated reading time: 4 min
A few days ago a friend of mine asked me to check a presentation he made for a meeting with one of his customers. He works for a London-based company which carries out market research for other businesses that are interested in certain information. He had to present the research findings to a client and asked me for a feedback on his deck. Because the slides he used were rather cluttered with unnecessary elements, I suggested that he made them more visual. He said: “Andrea, I know our presentations should be more visual, but we have a problem: our customers want to see the results of our research—they want to see the data, the numbers, the hard stuff. If we make visual presentations, then we would need to prepare another document as a handout and we don’t have time for that.”  

I understand his point. Businesses don’t have much time to spend on creating both a nice presentation and a document for future reference—and most likely they don’t have the foresight to hire a presentation specialist to do the work for them. But the good news is, there is a solution. 

By reading this article you’ll learn how to create visual presentations that at the same time include as much information as you like (seriously!), without doing extra work.

I usually don’t write about presentation tools and their features because what matters is the approach you follow. If you get the approach right, it doesn’t matter which tool you use. [Tweet this] In this short clip John Lasseter—Chief Creative Officer at Pixar—gives an important piece of advice to inspiring animation students:

“…Through your career the software will change, what’s important is […] what you do with the software. And what you do with the software...you’ll learn that from the basic fundamentals 
(drawing, design, film grammar, story, etc.).” 

Design, storytelling, public speaking, visual communication: these are the basic fundamentals that matter when it comes to presentations, not the software. However, I’ll make an exception today. There is one feature presentation tools have which can really set your presentation apart: the Notes Page view. Most people don’t know it, or don’t use it at its full potential. I’m going to show you how it works in PowerPoint, but the idea is exactly the same with Keynote. 

The Notes Page View

If you pull down the View” menu and click “Notes Page”, voilĂ , you’ll see your slide on the top and a text box on the bottom. Whatever you write in that text box won’t be seen by your audience when you are in Presentation View. What I find nice about this box is that you can use it to display any kind of information: text, charts, tables, images, etc.—the sky’s the limit! What’s even better is that it’s extremely easy to place and move objects within the box. It’s as easy as it is to move elements within a slide. You can even customise the position of the text box and of the slide and change their size as well.  

Here’s a screenshot of the Notes Page view (my PowerPoint is in Italian, but you’ll find this button on the same position, regardless of the language).

If you think about it, this feature can improve your presentations—and your customer’s satisfaction—by making your slides breath. It allows you to create simple visuals that amplify your message during your meeting and—with no extra work—a follow-up document with all the additional information you want your customers to take away. The only difference for you is that instead of cluttering your slides with loads of text nobody will read, you can put everything in the text box on the bottom, save it as a pdf and print it or email it to your customer. Without even realizing it, you are creating both a nice presentation and a professional document at the same time. 

Here's a before/after example. 
Before - common slide

After - visual slide + Notes Page view
If you show the  before version during your meeting, there are only two possible scenarios:
  • your customer won’t be able to read the text
  • your customer won’t be able to listen to you
People can’t read and listen at the same time. [Tweet this] There is no way out. Most business people know that, but very few seem to do anything about it. If instead you show the visual slide of the after version, this will amplify your message and you’ll have more chances to get your point across. Your customers will even be happier because (1) they won’t have to attend another boring meeting, (2) they'll get what they want (the data, the numbers, the hard stuff). The only difference is, they'll get the additional information on a separate document. 

Remember, you've created this separate document with no extra effort. Instead of including loads of information on your slides, you killed two birds with one stone by using the text box on the bottom. 

I know what you’re thinking. You're thinking that by using this method you’ll need to remember what to say during your presentationand you’ll no longer able to read through your slides. And you're correct. There is nothing you can do about it. You’ll need to know your material. If you are not willing to invest time learning your material, no secret will work for you. But if you are willing to do that, then using the Notes Page view will drastically improve your presentations and make your customers happier.

Tell me, do you think you can apply this tip to your presentations? I'd love to know your thoughts. Leave a comment below or meet me over on Google+ or Twitter to join the conversation right now.

IMAGE: Earth Day Presentation via Flickr