presentation skillsYou don’t have to be Don Draper to put on a dog and pony show that will wow even the most skeptical client, business partner or angel investor. You just need a formula you can follow for success and some award-winning tools that will ad punch to your next presentation. Steve Jobs once said, “every new business pitch should do three things: inform, educate and entertain.” In short, you should design your presentation for engagement.

Good creative presentation ideas take time, require a great deal of thought and planning and take disciplined practice to pull off. Here are a few good starting points when you’re in the planning phases of a creative presentation.

Put it on Paper

Whether it’s on a whiteboard, spiral notebook or a fancy sketchbook, start to storyboard your creative presentation by putting it down on paper. Brainstorm ideas alone or in a group setting, writing out different ways you could present an idea. Then, create a one-sentence description for every idea — almost like a tagline. For example, the iPhone 5 played off color with their line, “For the colorful.”

Think Like the Customer

When you’re thinking about the features and benefits you want to convey about a product or an idea, it helps to put yourself in the customer’s shoes. Too many times companies focus inwardly and their presentation comes out like a chest-beating exercise rather than giving the customer what they truly seek. Remember that your audience is primarily interested in “what’s in it for me.” So you need to deliver. Lead with concrete features and benefits rather than how your company is so wonderful at what it does.

Use Simple English

Stick to the KISS marketing adage, ‘keep it simple stupid,’ when communicating your key idea. Steer clear of business jargon like, “best-in-class” and “synergy” and talk to people in a language they can easily comprehend. This is especially true when you’re presenting. Agency speak such as “proprietary process” has no place in your creative presentation if you want to make a meaningful connection.

How the Pros do it

Today’s digital world brings with it may opportunities to add sight and sound to creative presentations that simply weren’t available during the golden years of advertising in the 60s and 70s. Way back when, ad agency creative teams preparing for a creative presentation had to rely on such rudimentary resources as overhead projectors, flip charts, handouts and whiteboards. Concepts many times were presented as roughs, or sketches on tissue like paper and were very crude.

For ad agencies, the process of acquiring new business, or the pitch, has traditionally been something that everyone in the creative department had to learn how to master.

If you are a copywriter, someone that writes words for television spots, ads, websites and more, you need to figure out how to bring life to your work. The same goes for an art director or graphic designers, the people who give advertisements visual meaning.

Ad agencies typically present around three solid creative ideas. There are different schools of thought as to whether to lead with your strongest idea or finish with it. Ad execs will have storyboards outlining an idea visually, or a power point presentation they will walk the client through. The thing most ad agencies will do, if they are worth their salt, is never give a client an idea they want, but whether what they need to move their business forward.

Agency professionals also take a look at the room they will be presenting in ahead of time. The reason for this is so you know where your equipment will go, what type of lighting you’ll have and also to eliminate “unknowns” that could hurt you on the big day. Clients are historically resistant to new ideas, so involving them as early in the process is another way ad agencies start to build consensus early in the process. The creative team should be prepared to defend their work, and should anticipate any tough questions in advance of the pitch. The creative team and the account team should always be on the same page with work, and present a united front.

Attention Span

People’s attention span isn’t what it used to be, particularly today when information comes at us at the speed of light. Remember that at any given time a person can only retain about four pieces of completely new information. It’s also hard for the average person to process written and spoken words together at the same time. Integrating spoken words with pictures and graphics on slides makes it easer for the brain to absorb these two different streams at one. Open strong with a killer first slide or beginning remark. Talk too much and your audience will glaze over and their minds will wander off.

A narrative format is a good way to present information because when someone is engrossed in a story they are going to want to know what happens next. To hold someone’s attention for a suspended period requires change. That’s why you’ll notice when a speaker is talking to an audience he or she will change the pitch of their voice frequently, going higher or lower, softer or louder.

If you’re using slides, less is definitely more. Each slide should make one main point, not try to cram a bunch of thoughts into it. Make use of different fonts to keep your slides interesting and give the text on a slide air to breath. Remember, not everyone is in the front row where every single word is readable. Make sure the people in the back are going to be able to read what you have on the screen.

Color evokes a strong response so think about the mood you want to create with your presentation. Red represents power and urgency, blue is very calming and orange evokes energy and enthusiasm. Color is often overlooked in presentation because people are so consumed with the content they want to get across. You can say more with less using the right colors.

Next-Generation Tools

PowerPoint is no longer the only game in town. There are many digital alternatives, from cloud-based apps to websites that put a new spin on the old slideshow. Keynote is one of these new tools. Keynote works through iCloud and is available on Apple products such as iPad, iPhone or iPod, enabling you to deliver animated or 3D charts. You can also pre-record an audio voiceover and time it to slides if you’re not delivering the presentation in person. The best part of keynote? The starting price is a mere $9.99.

Prezis is another great presentation tool and it’s one part PowerPoint, one part whiteboard. Its magic lies in the in-and-out zooming feature that lets you highlight certain ideas and call them out. It’s also cloud based so you’ll have everything you need in one place; videos, images, PDF files, etc. Prezis lets you build your first couple of presentations for free, then offers different pricing options — the basic model for $59, and Prezis Pro for $159.

If you’re not familiar with Google Drive, what rock have you been living under? It’s essentially an easier version of PowerPoint and offers basic templates and real-time collaboration ability. Haiku Deck is a designer’s dream and offers scads of themes, photo choices from Creative Commons and Getty images, and enables easy import of images from Facebook and Dropbox. Best part — it’s free on iOS.

Projeqt gives you the flexibility to pull material from anywhere you have it and import it right into your presentation. It’s also easily sharable through the Internet, and Projeqts are embeddable anywhere you want. Say you want to stream a video in from YouTube, for example — Projeqt makes it happen. You can also pull live blog feeds or tweets directly into your presentation. It’s also free of charge.

Public Speaking

Perhaps you don’t consider yourself a natural presenter or public speaker and that’s okay. People who are shy by nature find it uncomfortable getting up and speaking in front of a group. There are ways to get beyond your shell so that your shyness doesn’t get in the way of selling a really great idea. The first thing you need to do is don’t focus on the lack of confidence in this area, but rather how excited and passionate you are about the idea itself. Excitement is contagious and your audience will be fixated on that.

Practice, practice, practice and that will help you communicate the main points you are trying to get across. But don’t think you have to get every word perfect, or memorize your entire speech. Instead, make sure you have a few choice phrases you can pull out when you need them.

A big idea, a few key points around that big idea, a compelling story supported with dynamic visuals and a well-rehearsed (but not staged) delivery will help ensure that your idea gets the energy and enthusiasm it deserves to stick with any audience.

The big test will be how your audience responds. Applause and grins are signs you did something right.

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