Three Steps to an Engaging PowerPoint Presentation

Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C.

Have you ever attended a presentation that reminded you of the phrase, “Death by PowerPoint”?

If so, chances are that the presenter relied on the “Word Cluster Click” method. The Word Cluster Click goes as follows: the presenter amasses information, decides on points to make, and prepares PowerPoint (PPT) slides with bulleted clusters of words. For each point during the presentation, he or she clicks the remote. Then another cluster of words appears. Diligently, conscientiously, and ruthlessly, the presenter reads every word to the audience while the audience does the same thing. All eyes are on the screen—synchronicity!

Play with a Full Deck—Use Two

If you’re a presenter who relies on PPT and finds the above description disturbingly familiar, then you have three options: (a) change the way you use PPT, (b) don’t use PPT, or (c) don’t get up in front of groups.

If you choose option (a), then I’ll assume that you like PPT because the slides organize your presentation, keep you on track, and conveniently double as your handout.

That’s fine, but here’s the key—create two decks. The first slide deck is your trusty, comfortable Word Cluster Click. Prepare it as you’ve always done. But make it your handout only.

The second deck is the one that you’ll project onto the screen. For this deck, follow these three steps:

  1. Ask yourself, “What are the most important points that I want to impart to attendees?” Whether it’s a behavior change, a new understanding, or a paradigm shift, ask yourself what you’d most like audience members to remember or be inspired by.
  2. Identify a story or stories that will drive home your key takeaway points. It may be a personal experience, the experience of someone else (properly authorized), a case study, illustration, vignette, or hypothetical situation.
  3. Use the “hero’s journey” framework, which has the following steps:

Step 1. Introduce the characters.

Step 2. Describe the setting.

Step 3. Identify the obstacle—the challenge to be faced or the problem to be overcome.

Step 4. Resolve the story—overcome the obstacle.

Step 5. Provide the moral of the story—the critical teaching or takeaway or the call to action.

Once you’ve got your story together, use these steps to refine your presentation:

  1. Cut the clutter. If a detail doesn’t add color, drama, excitement, or provide support for the takeaway, remove it. Remember—you always have the ability to tell the audience, “additional details are in the handout.”
  2. Add action, drama, and dialogue. It may be an attention-getting detail, e.g., describing a confrontation between two large men “with thick necks.” It may be detailed dialogue. For example, instead of saying, “The two men argued,” you may say, “Joe looked angrily at Bill and said….” These steps engage the audience and create pictures in their minds that aid retention.
  3. Use visual images in your slides as opposed to words. Select images that will cement your story in your audience’s mind. These images will keep your presentation organized and on track in a much better way than the Word Cluster Click. The Web has all sorts of content you can access for free or at a modest cost, e.g., and As one professional speaker said, “People don’t remember what you say, they remember what they see.”
  4. Look for opportunities to include the audience in your presentation. Use “you” versus “I.” (Reread this post as an example of this technique.) Instead of saying, “I had the following experience…,” say “Imagine finding yourself in the following situation….” Ask the audience questions—real not rhetorical ones. They can answer you, or you can ask them to respond to the person sitting next to them. Whether you’re presenting in person or via the Web, there’s a cornucopia of interactive tools that you may use—polls, chats, texting, breakouts, virtual chat rooms, quizzes, and so on. Learn about these tools, and incorporate them into your presentation.
  5. Include humor. When audience members laugh, they feel better about themselves, which means that they feel better about you. Apply three comedic elements to your presentation: (a) a story or situation; (b) with an unusual twist at the end; and (c) a butt (as in the “butt of the joke”). Self-deprecating humor works well in creating bonds with audience members—“That schlub is just like me!” You can spice up your presentation with a little fun without having to be ready for Jay Leno.

Moral of the Story

Join me in ending the scourge of the Word Cluster Click. Use two decks. Breathe life back into PowerPoint presentations!

Jathan Janove is the managing shareholder of the Portland office of Ogletree Deakins. Follow Jathan on Twitter.


DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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