Making PowerPoint Presentations Effective

It’s time we cracked the code on this one.

I am talking about PowerPoint presentations. Specifically, I’m talking about bad PowerPoint presentations.

I’ll just go on ahead and say it. Most PowerPoint presentations are flat out awful. I speak from experience. I’ve put together some doozies over the years.

The funny part is, while we all know and accept that most are really bad, not much progress has been made in the Most PowerPoints Suck category. In fact, the trend seems to be fairly well established:

  1. Suffer through someone else’s PowerPoint
  2. Bitch and moan about how awful it was to everyone but the presenter
  3. When called upon to make a presentation, create something virtually indistinguishable from the PowerPoint in question

It’s not that others haven’t tried to offer help along the way:

  • Don McMillan made a great video calling out every stereotypical mistake made during PowerPoint presentations called Life After Death By PowerPoint. Unfortunately, after 1.3M views his wisdom seems to have fallen on deaf ears. If anything, one could make the argument that his work is the checklist to a successful presentation.
  • Guy Kawasaki’s 10-20-30 Rule should have gone a long way towards helping American businesses tighten things up, but it hasn’t accomplished much either.

Deconstructing the PowerPoint presentation

I love TED Talks. If you want to get inspired, this is a great place to spend an hour. Better still, if you’re interested in seeing how PowerPoint presentation skills can make or break a 20-minute window, there’s no better resource in the world.

Via the TED stage I’ve seen brilliant people bore groups of avid fans to death, and individuals with seemingly little to no stage presence captivate a room. I watched more than 200 TED Talks that year.

What resulted was a clear list of the Do’s and Don’ts of a great presentation that I’ve tested with repeated success.

Note: Go ahead and bookmark this post now – you’ll want to come back to it again later.

The Basics

The elements of a great PowerPoint presentation fall into two groups:

  1. Checklist elements – The basics you need to avoid embarrassing, momentum-derailing error
  2. Execution elements – The theories and practices that pull it all together

Checklist elements are the basics you need to have a workable PowerPoint presentation.

Note: These things will not help you have a great presentation. They will, however, better your chances at avoiding a complete and total train wreck.


  • Get your title slide right – title, date, client names/logo(s, etc.
  • Use a simple background – no shapes or patterns
  • Stick with simple, clean font – nothing decorative, easy to read from a distance
  • Keep colors to a minimum – simple is always better
  • Don’t use transitions
  • Don’t use sound effects
  • Don’t use clip art
  • Keep your presentation to 30 minutes or less
  • No more than 6 bullet points on a slide
  • Make sure your video or audio files play as expected when you’re off your office or home network
  • Don’t put complex imagery on the screen – it’s hard to read from a distance
  • Never read your slides
  • Spell check
  • Spell check again
  • Check the battery in your clicker
  • Be sure to have a replacement bulb for your projector
  • Know what projector they’re providing and how to connect to it before you go

8 Steps – The formula for real success

Each of the really great presentations I’ve found or participated in shared the following attributes. More than the list above, many of these are executional elements that may require you to rethink the way you look at your use of PowerPoint presentations, the content you choose to include and/or the teams you use to present them. All of these activities will prove beneficial to you and your audience.

1. Your PowerPoint presentation isn’t a presentation – it’s a performance
First, stop thinking of your presentation as a means of sharing data. It’s a performance, with you and/or your team as the star performers. This means you’ll need to stop focusing on the information, and start focusing on the audience.

Like any performance, your presentation needs a:

• Beginning (the problem or challenge)

• Middle (recommended solution or information gathered)

• End (recommendations and anticipated success metrics moving forward)

• Hero (Namely your company or solution)

• Villain (Namely the challenge or competitor)

• Damsel in distress (The opportunity moving forward)

2. Keep the audience engaged by engaging the audience
Left to their own devices, your audience will check out the minute the room gets dark. Force them to stay engaged by asking them questions, getting them to participate in what’s happening. Tony Robbins uses this frequently. During his TED Talk (6:21 and beyond) he repeatedly asked the audience to confirm their understanding of what he was saying or share their common experience by asking them to, “Say Aye.” As a result, they remained hyper engaged, waiting for his next request to participate in the action.

3. Build momentum
More than just keeping the audience engaged, you to build anticipation in the room. Each point you’re making needs to lead to the next. Create cliffhanger content on each slide to keep the audience guessing. Steve Jobs original iPhone keynote address is a flawless example. His build in the first 3 minutes is awe-inspiring.

4. Excitement is Infectious
Want to see how excitement can bring people together on even the driest of data? Watch Hans Rosling’s amazing performance recounting his experience teaching Global Development to Swedish undergraduate students. He’s talking about the change in family size and longevity between 1962 and 2006. And somewhere between 2:15 and 4:50 he becomes an Internet presentation rock-star (10M views and climbing).

If you’re ever going to turn your back on your audience, this is the way to do it.

5. Use your slides as guideposts, not notes
The perfect PowerPoint slide has a single word, number, graph or image and nothing else. The point of the slide is to pique the audience’s curiosity, not to give them a means of reading along or worse, ahead. In cases where bullet points are necessary, build the screen one point at a time to keep your audience with you.

A PowerPoint template should not be able to tell the story without you.

Again, Apple does a fantastic job doing this. Here are a few screen shots from the iPhone introduction keynote listed above:

6. Tell a well-known story – never memorize a script
Want to see a presentation go up in flames? Memorize a script and watch what happens when an audience member asks an unexpected question. I consulted for an agency once that insisted people memorize their scripts for presentation.

One afternoon, during a new business pitch, a young creative was asked an unexpected question during her part of the presentation. The question completely threw her off. She stood there looking between the screen and the group trying desperately to remember where she’d left off. The worst part was, the rest of the team was completely unable to help her. They were all so focused on remembering their parts that none of them knew where she was either.

Instead, thoroughly learn the material and key points of your presentation material as you would a story. This way, if you get interrupted, you can pick up without issue.

7. Come out from behind the podium
Want to connect quickly and completely with the audience? Come down from the stage. Audiences don’t expect you to interact with them. Go out and join them. Make eye contact with them. Make sure they’re with you and ask or take questions along the way to keep them engaged.

8. Keep it short and finish big
Even the best presentations have a time limit – usually 30 minutes or less. People are busy and need to get on with their day. Be sure to set expectations on time at the beginning. Let your audience know how long you intend to present to help manage their expectations. Then finish early.

And when you’re near the finish line, let them know. This gives the audience time to prepare questions and applause.

Follow even a few of these key points and your presentations will be better attended, better received and better appreciated.

How tow trucks and Disney can turn your business into the Nike or Apple of your industry.

Everything you need to know to achieve mega-brand, category dominance begins with conquering one single challenge. Successfully overcome this one hurdle and the path to super-success is open to you.

“We want to become the (Apple, Nike, etc.) of our industry.”

Sound familiar? We hear this sentiment in one form or another from nearly every brand we’ve worked with. Businesses spend hundreds of millions in time and talent chasing this goal. The truth is that every business has the potential to become a powerhouse brand. So what differentiates these mega-brands from the rest?


It’s Not A Question Of Resources

Study the history of any ultra-successful brand and you’ll find they started out the same way everyone else did – scraping together what money they could around an idea they believed in, collecting people who believed just as hard as they did who worked together tirelessly together towards a common goal.

As these businesses grow revenue stabilizes, credit becomes available, innovations are made, better talent is acquired, more money is earned and the cycle continues. In short, they are succeeding and should be well on their way to creating category dominance. But despite these achievements, most businesses lose cohesion as they gain momentum. This doesn’t mean they don’t continue to grow. Many businesses are successful at increasing or protecting revenue without achieving the brand loyalty and status they desire. The question is, why not?


It’s Not A Question Of Processes

Brand and management resources and implementers are readily available in person, book form or online including case studies, opinion pieces, etc. Most marketing development strategies include similar elements such as:

  • Defining your purpose
  • Uniting your team
  • Challenging the status quo
  • Defining a unique position within the market

It isn’t that businesses aren’t using these tools – at least to some degree. Nearly every brand we’ve worked with has been given one, some or all of these and is trying to use them effectively.

The problem is, most of them are failing because they miss one critical point that isn’t on any of these lists:


The Four-Word Gateway To Unprecedented Success

Write this down and sit with it a while – because when you first read it, you’ll think you get it – but chances are that you don’t:


It’s.    Not.    About.    You.


Right now, 70% of you are clicking away thinking this is something you already knew. And that’s good. The 30% who stay will be stealing away market share from those who left.

Simply put, no one cares about your business, why you do it, what you’re offering or how. They care about what will make their lives easier. Period.


Tow Trucks – An Example

By way of illustration:

Imagine you’re on a business trip and your car has a flat. You call for a tow truck and wait on the side of the road. An hour later, the truck arrives. You’re late and frustrated and just want to get to your meeting. You’re thrilled that the truck has arrived and are ready to get things moving.

But when the driver approaches, he begins telling you about how long he’s been a tow truck driver and all the merit awards he’s received over his career. He talks about how his truck is state of the art. He tells you about his amazing facility and how he only hires the best-trained people to drive on his behalf. He tells you about how he is going to change your tire and describes in detail how it will be done and how his practice is better than any of his competitors.

Do you care about anything he’s telling you? No. You don’t.

Now let’s imagine that several trucks show up at once and each of them says pretty much the exact same thing. They all say their staff cares more than the other guy. They say that their people are better. They say that they work harder than the other guys and that their equipment is better or more innovative.

How much of this is quantifiable by the audience? I’ll tell you. None.

Worse still, absent any real discernable difference between them, the customer is left to evaluate on one of a few variables:

  • Cheaper
  • Faster
  • Better looking

(None of which is a unique or sustainable position within the marketplace.)

This is exactly how most of the marketing world approaches their target audience.

And if you want to understand the experience in a B2B environment, take the illustration above and put the driver’s frustrated boss in the back seat of the car.


What We Can Learn From Visiting Disneyland

When you approach the entrance of Disneyland you see the following:


Disney. The Happiest Place On Earth.


That’s it. No discussion about how many more rides they have. No mention of how their staff is better trained, or friendlier, or how they have the biggest rollercoaster in the world – just a single promise that the brand will endeavor to deliver.

Some of you will argue that’s because they’re such a well-established brand and they don’t have to tell you anything about the product. But in truth, it’s this kind of thinking that made them a mega-brand in the first place.

But the biggest benefit is this. As a consumer, I’m interested to learn how many rides they have, and how they train their staff, and how high their rollercoaster is BECAUSE they promise me that this will be The Happiest Place On Earth. I’m emotionally engaged, so I’m willing to learn the justification.

That’s how it works.


Customers And Consumers Choose Emotionally And Justify Logically

People are hard-wired to choose emotionally and then justify their decision logically. The part of our brain that makes initial decisions (men tend call this their ‘gut’ and women refer to it as ‘intuition’) doesn’t have access to language, so it uses what it has access to – instinct which is emotional. When brand messaging begins by rattling off their features and benefits list (logic) they’ve jumped past the emotional (desire) connection each of us needs to feel an interest in the first place. If you’ve ever said, “I dunno, it just felt right” or, “I’ll know it when I see it” you know exactly what I’m talking about.

No emotional interest – no desire to know the details.


The Usual Argument And A New Way To Look At The Situation

Many businesses argue that if they don’t tout their features and benefits or commitment or dedication the consumer/customer/end-user won’t know them. To those using this argument I offer the following:

Imagine if when the tow truck driver walked up he started the conversation by saying, “Hi. We’ll have you back on the road in 10 minutes or less. We have the equipment, training and people to make it happen – it’s what our business is founded on.”

If they actually followed through on their promise, would you use them again next time? Would you tell a friend? Would you go online and find out how they were able to make and keep the claim in the first place?

I bet you would.

Why Branding Matters Online And Off

Have you ever done a Google search for a product or service only to find that every site is virtually identical in regards to their visuals and messaging?

It’s often difficult to determine why you should buy a product or service from Company A or B because their brand messages aren’t giving you a reason to choose one over the other.

So what differentiates one product or service from another? Why do people buy one product only when it’s on sale, yet willingly wait on line for hours or days to be the first to purchase another? Why do we dream of owning one product, but carelessly purchase, use and discard others without much thought?



Simply put, a brand is made up of the perceptions and expectations consumers or customers have about a business. Branding is the combined efforts businesses make to purposefully craft and set these perceptions and expectations in place.

Despite its proven benefits, the concept of branding is one of the most widely misunderstood by businesses regarding their marketing & advertising – both online and off. This regularly leads to the Sea of Sameness – a concept that has devastating effects on perceived brand value.


What a Brand Isn’t

To better understand what a Brand is we should begin by understanding what it isn’t.

A Brand is not your logo
A logo is simply the identification marker of your brand – a way for customers and consumers to easily identify that a product, message or marketing message is attached to your business.

A Brand is not your tagline
A well-crafted tagline is a projection of your Brand’s purpose (reason for being). Done right, a tagline is inspirational – a simple but powerful reminder of why you want to align with a company. (Example: Nike – Just Do It.)

A Brand is not your website, your advertising, your media buy, your social media plan or any other individual element.
A brand is all of these elements working in harmony around a single idea that clearly differentiates the company in the market place. A Brand is also a rallying cry for the company – a way to give them focus and unite them towards a single goal.

Branding is not just for big businesses.
In fact, if you want your small business to become a dominant player in the market place, the sooner you put Branding to work for you, the faster you’ll get there.

Most importantly, Branding is not optional.
If you don’t define and protect your Brand, consumers, or worse, the competition will do it for you. And whose Brand will benefit? Theirs will.

“Your brand is the single most important investment you can make in your business.” – Steve Forbes


Your Brand Is

Your Brand is your first ambassador, representative and sales person. Your Brand sets the tone for potential customers and consumers – giving them a glimpse at what you stand for and setting expectations and perceptions moving forward. This first impression is extremely important as everything your business does will be measured against it.

“A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumers’ decision to choose one product or service over another.” – Seth Godin

For example, think about the difference between Target and Walmart. Ask any woman: “What is the fancy word for Target?” And they’ll quickly respond with a French accented “Tar-jay.” Now ask that same woman about he fancy word for Walmart and they’ll respond with crickets. Why? Target has branded themselves as the fashionista of discount department stores – a place with beautiful products and great customer service. Note that I did not say that Target was known for cheap prices. Walmart on the other hand is known for deeply discounted prices (and little to no customer service). Both have branded themselves in these ways to distinguish themselves in the marketplace and to appeal to certain people and/or certain needs. It doesn’t mean that someone who shops at Target won’t shop at Walmart or vice versa, it’s just that the expectations of the shopper at each of those stores is radically different.

Here are some other examples:

  • Porsche vs Honda
  • Starbucks vs Dunkin Donuts
  • Nordstrom vs JCPenney
  • Whole Foods vs Your Local Grocery Store
  • Apple vs Microsoft

What makes each one different? What do you expect when you think of each?

Now think about your own business in your own category. Can you readily tell one business apart from the next if you’re not in the industry? Do you have a clear perception of how one business satisfies a particular aspect of your market better than another?

If the answer to either of the above questions above is ‘no’, two things are true:

  1. Your Brand is not clearly defined
  2. You have a great opportunity to distinguish your Brand in the category

Let’s talk.


Check back with us next week for our step-by-step on “How to Develop Your Brand Online”