It can be daunting to create a presentation from scratch. Many people start by designing a set of great-looking slides, then developing a script to match. But this is the exact opposite of what you should be doing. You need to start with a strong foundation of ideas and words before you get to the visuals.
Ready, Fire, Aim!
Just last week I was asked to review an Ignite presentation that was being developed by one of my clients. The Ignite format is quite rigid: you have a deck of 20 slides that advance automatically every 15 seconds for a total speech time of 5 minutes. It’s crucial that you know exactly what you’re going to say and how long it takes you to say it. So I was quite surprised when I received a presentation that didn’t contain any speaker notes. When I asked the client where the script was, he told me that he wanted to review the finished slides with me first, then he was going to develop a script the day before the submission deadline.
No. Just no.
So what’s the big deal? The big deal is that you can waste a lot of time and energy coming up with visuals that may or may not do a good job at communicating your messages. You can fall in love with little details of slide design while losing sight of the goals of your presentation. By shooting first and aiming later, it’s easy to miss the mark.
A better way
Now that we know what not to do, let’s go over what you should be doing when you’re creating a presentation.
Step 1: Determine your goals
There are three main reasons people make presentations: to sell, to educate, and to persuade. Once you’ve determined which of these categories your presentation falls into, you need to refine your goal further. For example, why do you want to educate people on a certain topic? Do you seek to change their behavior? Do you want to give them a fresh perspective? Is your hope that they’ll take what they’ve learned and accomplish a particular task? Figure out what you believe will be the best-case-scenario results of your presentation. These are your goals.
Step 2: Write an outline
Now that you know where you’re going, figure out how to get there. The outline is the road map for your speech. It’s where you write down all of your ideas, then organize and rearrange them so that your presentation a) makes sense and b) helps further your presentation goals. For tips on how to write a good outline, follow the excellent instructions found on the University at Albany SUNY website.
Step 4: Write a script
Even if you’re not presenting in a rigid format like Ignite, it’s always helpful to write a script that goes into your speaker notes. I find that the exercise of writing helps me to memorize what I’m going to say during each slide. I might not repeat the script verbatim, but I’ll know what topics to cover. Having detailed speaker notes make it easy to create handouts directly from PowerPoint. They also make it easier for people to understand your presentations on their own.
Step 5: Time your speech
How long do you have to present? Are you teaching a 90-minute class or do you have 5 minutes to pitch an investor? Hopefully, you considered this when you wrote your script. Either way, time yourself reading the script to know about how long it takes to get through. That way, you’ll know whether you need to add or subtract from it, depending on your target speech time.
Step 6: Design your slides
Slide design is actually the last step of the process, not the first. Now that you know what your goals are, what you want to say, how you will say it and how long it takes, you can design effective slides. And it’s a lot faster to design slides around a script because the words describe what they should look like.
Putting it all together
By now, you’ve probably realized that there’s a lot of back-end work you need to do in order to create an effective presentation. Sure, you could design your slides first and ask questions later, but wouldn’t you rather take aim first so you have a better chance of reaching your target?