Tips for Better Presentations: Moving beyond transition effects and cascading styles and fonts

One of the most common methods of delivering eLearning content, is via presentation slides or decks. While Microsoft PowerPoint is the dominant tool-of-choice for many instructional designers, with GoogleSlides a popular choice, there are other tools available too. Options include Prezi, Haiku Deck, Visme and Emaze – some of which are free, while others are subscription-based tools. The first impulse of trainers and course designers is to master the “wowing features” of these tools, and then to develop content that leverages those features. That might not be the best way to create effective presentations. 

Tips and Techniques for Better Presentations

Whether you use some of the tools highlighted above, or whether you rely on presentation features integrated into your Learning Management System (LMS), you should never make the power (or limitations) of the tools the focus of your presentations. The moment that eLearning content designers do that, they lose focus of that which matters: Audience and Message.

Here are six tips to help you create better presentations:

1. Make a Strong Start

Research on online browsing habits shows that it takes just 30 seconds to capture an online viewers’ attention. Failure to do so within that timespan results in losing the viewers interest. The same is true of eLearners viewing online presentations – if the starting sequence of slides doesn’t captivate your learners, you might lose them even before the course starts!

Here’s a tip to help you make a strong starting impression:

  • Instead of starting with the usual “About me…” or “What we’ll cover…” slides, use attention-grabbing headlines, graphics or videos to make your audience sit up and take notice

It helps if the start-up sequence is relevant to the course topic – but it doesn’t have to be. Anything (within reason and civility!) that catches the audience off guard helps to bring focus onto you and the presentation as you kick off the session.

2. Follow the 10-20-30 Rule

How often have we seen it happen: After sitting through patiently for half-an-hour or so, learner’s will tune out and let their minds wander!  Even though the presentation is well designed and appropriately structured, your learners won’t benefit from your efforts.

Here are three tips to avoid that fate for your presentations:

  • Break-up the broader presentation into bite-sized topics of no more than 10 slides each
  • Time the delivery of each topic to span no longer than 20 minutes each
  • For greater visibility, use fonts with 30+ pitch size  

The greatest takeaway of the 10-20-30 rule is: Less is more when it comes to delivering learning content through presentations.

3. Follow the KIS Principle

Simply stated, the Keep It Simple (KIS) rule states that simplicity is the best policy. KIS includes:

  • Only include slide content that advances the key teaching message
  • Keep slide backgrounds and themes simple and clutter-free
  • Stick with tried and tested transition effects and color schemes
  • Use a customized template, with pre-defined headers and footers

The objective of KIS is to help remove the focus of learners away from the tool (your presentation deck) and direct it to the message (training content) you are delivering.

4. Practice the Rule of 15

At its simplest, the Rule of 15 states:

  • Regardless of how sparse or dense each slide within the presentation is, if you can summarize the central idea it is communicating in 15 words (or less), then you’re good!

Make sure you include content in each slide that speaks to those 15 words. If what you’ve included doesn’t comply with the Rule of 15, reword or re-phrase.

5. Don’t Teach – Tell Stories

If you attempt to mimic course notes or textbooks through your presentations, chances are that you will fail – miserably! Presentations aren’t meant to substitute course literature. They are meant to supplement it.

Here’s a tip to help you do that:

  • Use stories (real-life or made-up) to deliver a teaching point

Learners, especially eLearning audiences, don’t like to see course content regurgitated in the form of presentation slides. Therefore, use your presentations to help them relate to that content by linking it with anecdotes and stories.

6. Sound Advice

Regardless of how well-structured your slide decks are, and no matter how engaging your stories are – if the presentation is devoid of sound-appeal, your learners will immediately zone out! Like sights, sounds can convey more than just words, and can help learners absorb the content they are looking at and hearing.

Here are some tips to help you use sound more effectively in your presentations:

  • Make sure narrations are clear and crisp – with no traces of heavy accent
  • When presenting narrative-heavy slides, keep background sounds/music to a minimum
  • If your topic is overly technical, make sure narrators pronounce technical terms precisely (Etramethyldiaminobenzhydrylphosphinous acid, Aceruloplasminemia, Kwashiorkor)
  • Pay special attention to similar-sounding terms (compander versus compounder)

If you don’t have a strong-pitched, clear voice, perhaps consider having sound overlays delivered by professional narrators.

Don’t Forget the Basics

The six techniques highlighted in the previous section shouldn’t be followed exclusively, at the expense of all other sage presentation advice. Remember the basics:

  • Know your audience: Who the learner is; What are their previous learning/professional backgrounds; What are they hoping to learn
  • Less is more: Don’t overwhelm the course with too many special effects, transition effects and cascading styles. These can prove more of a hinderance than help to learning
  • Mix it up a bit: Inundating learners with slide after slide of neatly spaced bulleted text might not be the best way to accomplish desired learning objectives. You need to mix it up a bit, adding video, graphics and audio where appropriate   
  • Don’t narrate – speak: Resist the temptation to narrate slide text verbatim. That’s the best way to lose your audience. Instead, use slides as prompts to which you “speak to”. When delivering effective presentations, narrators always provide more (much more!) information about the topic than what’s conveyed in the 4 or 5 bullet points
  • Take a breather: Learn to pause at strategic locations in your slides, in order to make a point. Strategic pauses can sometimes convey more than the words written on the slide

The six tips discussed earlier, as well as the back-to-basics preview above, will not only help you develop more effective presentations that resonate with your learners, they’ll also help produce better learning outcomes.


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