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9 Ideas for Creating Presentations that Matter

January 29, 2013
Create Presentations that better share your Story.

Create Presentations that better share your Story.

I spoke to a group of non-profit communicators today about how to create better presentations. We talked about simplifying the message and cutting the visual clutter. We discussed the importance of consistency, reflecting your visual brand and using compelling images to engage your audience. Throw away the templates, clip art and bad stock photography. Be professional.

But still, one attendee noted that, while I was providing some terrific ideas, she was hoping for that elusive magic bullet. It’s a fair question. Working in a non-profit can mean working harder than ever with fewer resources – and something always has to give. Don’t let it be your brand.

Ouch! Where to look first?

Ouch! Where to look first?

The truth is, if there is a magic bullet, I haven’t found it. A good presentation takes time to prepare. A really brilliant one-hour presentation can take 40, 50, 60 hours or more to create. Yep, 60 or more hours. A great presentation simply cannot be thrown together in an hour the night before. Your organization needs one killer presentation that you can riff off of, and whether or not you have a budget for it, you need to find a way.

Compelling Image and Simplified Message.

Compelling Image and Simplified Message.

What is the cost of lost opportunity? Of potential donors ignoring you? Of potential volunteers moving on to other organizations? Of potential board members opting for other opportunities? I would argue that you can’t afford not to have a great presentation that tells your organization’s story and creates awareness for your brand and your cause.

For me, the only way to start a presentation is to think. Think about why you’re creating a presentation. Think about what you want to talk about and why it matters to you. Use tools like whiteboards, sticky notes, even a napkin will do to jot down your main ideas. Know what you want your audience to learn or discover through your presentation.

Identify and keep your focus on your goal. As a not-for-profit, this is likely:

  • To create awareness for advocacy
  • To explain your relevance and importance
  • To attract donations, volunteers, and support

Here are 9 ideas to keep in mind:

  1. Simplify your message. I know, being simple is not that simple. But stay focused on your main message and avoid muddying the waters with sidebars and twinkle lights. Provide clear and simple information and be specific. “Our mission is to inspire a community of readers. To achieve that, we provide after-school reading programs for students ages 5 – 12.”

    Engage your audience.

    Engage your audience.

  2. Simplify your design. White space is your friend. Stay visually consistent by setting visual rules (limit the colours, fonts, effects, and layout styles). Choose solid colours and beautiful fonts that are large enough to be read from the back row (Times New Roman, Arial, Lucida Console and Comic Sans are not beautiful fonts!). Yes, PowerPoint offers a myriad of themes and fonts to choose from. Resist. Resist. Resist.
  3. Engage and delight your audience. This is not done through fancy animations or text zooming in and popping out of your slides. Impress your audience, don’t confuse them. A presentation lies somewhere between a report and a good story and is meant to enlighten and inform. It may include some data supported by compelling stories to make it interesting and to create a memorable experience.
  4. Do not put all the words you want to say on your slides and then, when they don’t fit, make the font smaller. A presentation is not a prompter. People can’t read and listen to you at the same time. In fact, people read faster than you can speak so if you’re going to read your slides you may as well just go take a seat.
  5. Avoid bullet points. Ok, you can use them sometimes, but don’t overdo it. Bullets are not magical punctuation marks that possess super powers to take the place of too much text on a slide. It is just as annoying, boring and mind-numbing to listen to a presenter read bullets from a slide as it is for a presenter to read sentences from a slide.

    Avoid text and data dense slides that are difficult to read.

    Avoid text and data dense slides that are difficult to read.

  6. Empathize with your audience. Don’t be boring (see points #4 and #5). This is about them, not you. Pretend you’re at a cocktail party. Smile. Make a few jokes. Keep the conversation light and flowing, share anecdotes that people will relate to. Don’t be that girl who drones on and on about herself. Ensure your text is readable and spelled correctly (yes, grammar matters, we’re professionals here!), and your images consistent, impactful and well balanced.
  7. Use meaningful images to help tell your story. Invest in good photography, a picture really can paint a thousand words. Professional photography is best or, if that’s not possible, use (good!) stock photography and encourage your volunteers and staff who love to take photos to bring their cameras to your events. Images of babies, puppies are sure-fire hits. If that doesn’t work with your non-profit settle for great shots of people in action for your cause.

    A captivating picture really can paint a thousand words.

    A captivating picture really can paint a thousand words.

  8. Explore ways to share impactful highlights of your data in interesting ways other than in spreadsheets and confusing graphs. Too much data can put your audience to sleep and distract your audience from your most important message.

    Find compelling ways to share data that relate to your Story.

    Find compelling ways to share data that relate to your Story.

  9. When you share your stories remember to be authentic and sincere. Telling the story about one life you impacted will resonate with your audience. Use real language and show emotion to show how your organization is helping to change the world.

What else do you do to create strong presentations?

This is the first from a series of presentations called “Digital for Do-Gooders: Technology to help Non-Profits Do Good Better.” Sponsored and supported by WEtech Alliance, Windsor-Essex’s Technology Accelerator.

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