It's no secret that to engage audience members, you must first understand who they are. Are they friendly? Tough? Serious? Lighthearted? Bored? Should you use humor or stick to the facts? These questions shouldn't be ignored. The answers will dictate not only your content but your design.
Begin by asking yourself who the majority of the audience represents. Are they technology people who will require exact numbers and figures? Or are they marketing people who need the overall picture?
Also consider your personal relationship with this audience. How well do you know them? Is this the first time you've met?
If you know and get along well with the audience, you may want to begin with some humor. A good quote or a tasteful cartoon can be a great way to get things rolling. With a new audience or one that you know is serious, it's always better to emphasize professionalism. Forget about any antics and keep the presentation focused and straightforward.
After you understand who will be attending, you can assemble the right presentation. To design with your audience members in mind, you need to take time to choose colors, fonts and images that convey an understanding of them and their business. Use your design to keep pace with the time allotted for the presentation, to anticipate questions and even to provide more detail if necessary.
Personalize the presentation
Customizing a presentation to a client or to attendees shows that you care enough to research who they are and what they're about. Let's say, for example, that you're presenting to a vice president of marketing and her staff. For this audience, it's important that you study the company's past marketing campaigns to get a feel for its style. Your presentation should acknowledge that style and include content that shows you've done your research.
From a design standpoint, you can use some nice touches to personalize slides. An up-and-coming Internet firm, for example, warrants a presentation that's flashy, upbeat and laden with multimedia. A long-standing financial institution, in contrast, calls for classic style with little room for bells and whistles. Other nice touches include placing the company logo into the template or using the company colors. Show them you've done your research and know who your listeners are. The ultimate goal in your design is to indicate that you understand their market, product and mind-set.
The pace clock
Time is a precious commodity in presenting. While delivering a message, a presenter must speak fast enough to hold attention, but not so fast that the audience becomes lost or confused.
The audience will have an effect on your pacing. For instance, a technical audience will demand a presentation that speaks at its level and pace. In this case, design slides to skim the basics and jump into the meeting's specific points. If your audience is not familiar with the topic, however, the basic-information slides should be rich in detail. Be aware of which aspects your audience already knows and which will take more time to explain.
Another good rule is to keep your presentation shorter than the audience anticipates. In a 30-minute presentation, keep the main talk to 10 or 15 minutes and make your point in the first three minutes. This gives you plenty of time for questions and more personal communication. Attendees will be impressed if the presentation ends when you said it would. Such punctuality shows you respect your attendees' schedule and realize they are busy people.
Another way to show attendees you've done your homework is to anticipate their questions with secret slides. I almost always design extra slides that are not included in the main presentation. Using such hidden slides gives you the advantage of having lots of detailed information on hand in case you need it. After I've gone through the initial slides, I may use these secret slides in the Q & A period to address more specific questions.
When you design hidden slides, use the same template you used for the initial presentation. Hidden slides can be placed anywhere within the presentation. To hide a slide, select it and go to SLIDESHOW, then HIDE SLIDE. In the slide sorter view, hidden slides will appear with a gray box around them but will not appear in your slideshow.
When you wish to access a certain hidden slide, right-click with the mouse or remote and select GO from the menu, choosing either BY TITLE or SLIDE NAVIGATOR. The hidden slides will appear in either menu with parentheses around the number. Be sure to label these hidden slides proficiently so you will find them easily.
Basic content rules
Considering your audience also involves knowing some basic rules for electronic design. After all, you don't want your listeners paying attention to an annoying color or straining to read too many bullets in a small font. You want them to focus on the subject at hand. Design your presentation with the following advice in mind:
Follow the 8 x 8 rule. Use no more than eight lines of bullets and no more that eight words per line.
Keep your text short. This allows you to personally elaborate during the presentation.
Use a parallel sentence structure. Decide to start all bullet points with a noun or start all with a verb, and use your choice consistently. If you begin with verbs, keep them in the same tense.
Use graphics and visuals. Some information is better represented visually.
Working your audience research into slide design may take more preparation, but the result is a more polished presentation that adds to the power of your content. After all, the better you understand your listeners' needs and concerns, the more likely you will be to frame your message in a way that will get a great response from them.
Jennifer Rotondo is a Microsoft Certified Expert, Advanced PowerPoint trainer, author of several books on presenting and president of Creative Minds Inc., which specializes in professional design of PowerPoint presentations, multimedia and Web sites. Contact her at 770.421.2476 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.creativemindsinc.com.