PowerPoint and Audience Engagement

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Audience at a conference

PowerPoint – the presentation tool we love to hate. For the purposes of this article, let’s use PowerPoint as a proprietary eponym. Any other form of presentation deck, Google slides, Prezi, Keynote etc. can be considered a part of this conversation. Whether you are the presenter being tripped up by reading your slides or the audience member trying to absorb the written content and pay attention to the presenter, at some point a PowerPoint has derailed your presentation or learning.

The long-standing myth that humans can multitask has been firmly and scientifically dispelled. Earl Miller, professor of neuroscience at MIT has explained the phenomenon we think of as multitasking as our brain quickly shifting focus. We are not capable of thinking two thoughts simultaneously. Instead, we are playing a rapid game of ping-pong with our ideas. So what does this have to do with PowerPoint?

If your slides are packed with content (usually via text) you are presenting your audience with a conundrum. Should they read your slide or listen to you speak? Remember, they can’t do both simultaneously.


Ideally, your audience would be focused on you, the presenter. A live speaker should be much more compelling than simply reading a PowerPoint slide. Unfortunately, most audiences default to reading your slides instead of listening to your stories. Some would say to ditch the deck altogether but PowerPoint presentations have become our standard method of presenting in the corporate world so if you want to reclaim the attention of your audience, here are some simple but effective tools to get you on track.

[Related video: Death by PowerPoint]

Keep your text at or above 19 pts. Keeping your fonts large is the easiest way to reduce the amount of text on a slide – you can’t add more text, it just won’t fit!

Replace as much text as possible with images that support your points. These don’t have to be clip-art, try using shapes and text together to enhance your points.

Analyze your presentation and be ruthless with your slides. How many slides should you have? Only as many as required to support what you’re saying.

Knowing your content well is the easiest way to reduce your reliance on reading your slides.

Try your presentation without a deck at all! This won’t work for every presentation, but it is great practice for those inevitable technological glitches.

If your PowerPoint makes a useful handout it probably doesn’t make an effective presentation. If you have substantive information that the audience needs to walk away with in a hard format, create a separate document as a leave behind.

If you employ these tactics, your PowerPoint will support your presentation, not the other way around!

Fringe helps our clients present with impact and influence. If you or someone on your team are preparing to present to any size audience, our presentation coaching is perfect for you. To get your deck, your message, and your physical and verbal presentation prepped for success, reach out directly to me for more information.

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