When I ask this question during my training workshops, I usually hear the following: I start with the layout, I put the content into the slides, I copy slides from previous presentations or I get a cup of coffee. Well, all beginnings tend to be tough but a good start is the key. A good jump start, what is that?
Start the analog way
Let me suggest one thing to you: start away from the computer. Don’t switch it on or at least don’t open the program for making presentations.
If we open PowerPoint too early and just start putting the content into the slides, our presentation may go in the wrong direction. We thoughtlessly fill the slides with anything that crosses our mind, we put in pictures we came across while browsing the Internet, we chase one thought after another and we spit them all out at random. And then, as we see that we are running out of time – or finding that we have already put in too much time into it – we conclude that our presentation is complete. This is a sure recipe for a presentation that is nothing but chaotic, formless and pointless. In short: a bad presentation.
A really good presentation must be preceded by a thorough thinking process. If crafting a presentation is a creative act in any sense, it is definitely so at the beginning – the more time and effort we put into thinking about how our presentation should look, the better the final effect will be.
Nancy Duarte, author of the famous book “Slide:ology", suggests that creating a 30-slide presentation will require about 90 hours to prepare, of which about 30 hours should be devoted only to exploring the topic, researching the area, searching for interesting relationships, verifying ideas with experts and developing a sketch of the presentation. This means that about one third of the whole process should be allocated to the so-called prework. Abraham Lincoln went even further with his famous phrase: “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”
5 stages of the pre-work
In another of her books – “Resonate: Present Visual Stories that Transform Audiences” – Duarte proposes a precise 5-step process of creating a presentation:
Stage one: Brainstorming – which is meant to generate as many different ideas as possible. Do not swith on the editor mode at this stage yet. Get as much as you can out of your mind. Among the abundance and diversity you will find some really valuable stuff.
Stage two: Selection – this is the time to switch on the editor mode. Decide which ideas are fit for development and which should be simply thrown away.
Stage three: Creating sets – consists in putting ideas together into meaningful bunches. The goal of this stage is to find common features in the previously selected ideas and arrange them thematically.
Stage four: Creating messages – means just writing out the content.
Stage five: Organizing the messages – is about putting the various ideas in order so that the whole presentation has the intended effect on the audience.
According to most cognitive psychologists and neurobiologists studying the functions of the human brain, we come up with the best ideas when we let our minds wander. John Cleese, one of the people in and behind Monty Python's Flying Circus, once said: " We don't know where we get our ideas from. What we do know is that we do not get them from our laptops.”
Most experts agree: humanity has not invented a better tool for creative thinking than the brain "attached" to a pen or pencil, writing our thoughts on paper. Artists of all kinds – screenwriters, writers, comedians, copywriters – do not part with their pens and notebooks. They write down their ideas and then review them, analyze and correct them - and in this process of constant change is the hatching ground of their best works. The best ideas are rarely the result of the first flash of thought.
Therefore, before you turn on PowerPoint, sit down with a piece of paper and jot down all the ideas that run through your head when you think about the upcoming presentation. Using keyword approach, write down the promising ideas. In order to open your mind for a fresh influx of inspiration, try changing the surroundings – take your notebook to the park, try working in a restaurant or a cafe. Take your time.
I know what you’re thinking: “I never seem to have enough time to make a presentation. Should I now complicate the job and extend the whole process, which doesn’t even look like making a presentation? This makes no sense”.
Well, this may seem pointless to you, if you really want to get the job done in no time. The question is however: do you want to create your presentation quickly or do you want to build it well?
Fundamental questions at the beginning
In order to organize the process of creating content for the presentation, you will have to ask yourself four fundamental questions:
- Who is the recipient of my presentation?
- What’s the goal of my presentation?
- What’s the basic message of my presentation?
- What type of presentation is it?
Why are these questions so important? Because answering them will help you get your ideas on the right track right at the start. With the right framework at the back of our minds, we can focus on looking for the best solutions for our particular presentation. Let us now look at these questions one after another.
And if you really want to start creating great presentations then go check out my online course Professional PowerPoint Presentations HERE>.