As IT professionals, business owners, or technicians, you most likely don’t have time to add “designer” to the skills section of your resume. Lucky for you, basic presentations are less about perfect design and more about clear and concise messaging.
Often, a presentation comes in handy when pitching a service or product to customers. This could be in person or in the form of a webinar, and gives your audience a visual understanding of what you are offering. Regardless of why you are creating it, knowing how to execute a simple and effective presentation is just as representative of your business as the way you look or the words you say.
There’s two parts to any presentation: the content and the design. This is your chance to take your polished sales pitch and build a visual story to go with it.
The message itself is really the most important thing when creating your presentation. You need to know exactly what you want to communicate before deciding what layout looks good. Content should drive your conversation, not the clipart used. A quick way to check your messaging and make sure you have sufficient substance is to ask these three questions:
These might be questions you have to ask yourself more than once in your presentation, so be prepared to think about these for each major statement or idea you want to communicate. Once you have your messaging in order, start from the top and make sure you have written or explained your point of view, your products, or your services to your actual customer.
Oftentimes, professionals make pitches like they’re talking to other professionals in their field. It’s a natural habit, because you’re so entrenched in your own expertise that you forget what concepts and ideas you didn’t know when you first got started. A good rule of thumb for this is to look at your messaging and ask, “Is this something a fifth grader could understand?” As the show So You Think You’re Smarter Than a Fifth Grader can attest, fifth graders are smart. So are your customers. Yet as the expert in your field, with jargon, concepts, and a deep understanding of technology, writers (and marketers) often forget that the average person may not be able to interpret your industry lingo. When you go back and consider what you wrote, think critically and look for areas where you can further explain concepts or words that you’ve assumed to be understandable, or areas that you can altogether change to make simpler.
Finally, the most critical question that you can answer in any presentation or any pitch is, “What’s in it for me?” Interestingly enough, the first part of your brain to develop controls your moods, allowing you not only to be happy or sad, but skeptical and unsure. As organizational behaviorist Simon Sinek has noted, first connecting with your audience through that same part of the brain and explaining to them how your services directly affect their lives has been proven as the most effective way to communicate a message. Another way to say this is to start by answering the “Why” and then the “What” (most people create messaging in the reverse). Let’s look at what this might sound like in one of your presentations:
Option 1: “By hiring me, you will have an expert available around the clock to take care of your computers.”
These are good things. You’re available 24/7, and the client can feel confident knowing their computers will be managed and working at any moment. However, it leaves out the critical conclusion of why they would actually want their computers to be up and running at a moment’s notice, not to mention why you specifically can achieve that for them. Let’s look at Option 2.
Option 2: “By hiring me, you’ll reduce business downtime, freeing you up to grow. Not having access to computers shouldn't be the reason that you lose customers or revenue, and my 24/7 remote monitoring can help you achieve that.
Both statements are true, but option two turns the reason your client should hire you from the service you provide them to the problem you will solve for them.
There’s lots of tutorials and instructions from YouTube on how to use your favorite presentation program. While Microsoft PowerPoint is one of the most common, there are plenty of other options, like Google Slides, Slides.com, Canva.com, Libre Office, and more. These programs are varied, from free to paid, to digital or nontraditional formats—and all give you different tips and tricks for how to actually use their products. Regardless of what you use, these basic concepts will allow you to get your message across in the most effective visual way.
First, keep it simple. If you’re not a professional designer, don’t stress out about the perfect color, layout, or template. There is no such thing. Instead, whether you’re using a company template or choosing one of your presentation program’s templates, think through what will be least distracting to the audience. Multiple colors, textures, or large patterns can often cut into the white space—which is the part of a page or slide without print or pictures—and that white space is what the eye is actually looking for in a presentation. Therefore, choosing a design or template that gives the eye as much white space as possible is a great first step in creating an effective visual story. As an added bonus, it will also allow you the most space to move around your text, images, and other items on each slide.
Next, there’s an acronym in the design world to help you think through how to put your message on each slide. It’s C.R.A.P. (contrast, repetition, alignment, proximity).
Remember as you’re building out your presentation that the less text you have on a slide, the better. This isn’t supposed to be something that you read verbatim, but instead a reference for you to know what is coming next, and a reminder for your clients of what you said once you leave.
Finally, pay attention to details. There’s nothing worse than having an incredibly impactful message that no one is listening to because they’re all focused on misspellings, or you didn’t notice part of your text is being cut off by another element you used and therefore can’t be read. Font types, fonts sizes, consistent words explaining concepts, product details, and more are important and you should have a careful, final look at all of them before finalizing your presentation.
One of my favorite things to use in a presentation is the “smart art” function, which most programs have; it can help you build a visual narrative with your content without having to do much work. You simply select from predesignated templates that best match your message. Also, using icons over clip art is an easy way to stay fresh visually. Simple is often better when it comes to design.
One of my least favorite things is animation, which is recommended only for use in a clear narrative or emphasis, not just because it’s a fun addition. Also, not using spell-check can hinder your audience from seeing the detail and consideration you put into the rest of your presentation.
There are lots of ways to create presentations, and at the end of the day, if you tell a customer how you alone can solve their problems, a polished presentation will matter less. However, honing this skill can help your customers know who you are, understand your message, and ultimately give you confidence knowing that the message has a visual story that will assist you in making the sale.
Kim Cecchini is senior director, corporate communications at SolarWinds MSP
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