Breathing life into your PowerPoints

Executive Summary

Breathing life into your PowerPoint…from a presentation with visual aids to a visual presentation.

And there’s a huge difference which I’ll explain in this article and if you adopt the ideas and principles it’ll turn your presentation into a stimulating event.

The Traditional Process to Construct a Presentation

Recognise this process when you’re putting together a business presentation:

  1. Find an old PowerPoint presentation that worked well
  2. Discard slides that don’t fit
  3. Add some new slides
  4. Re-order them into a structure
  5. Decide what narrative to say for each slide

It’s a recipe for a PowerPoint dominated presentation with you providing additional information or worse still, narrating the content of the slides. Because they may have a lot of information on them, people ask for copies and we duly oblige printing 4 slides per page. And, Heavens to Betsy, we might even give them out before the presentation.

During the presentation, you may follow this pattern:

  1. Click onto the first slide…talk
  2. Click onto the second slide…talk
  3. Click onto the third slide…talk

The slides are not visual aids, they are the structure, the points, the content, the lists, the bullets, graphs maybe some photographs and clipart to make them more visual but they are essentially…your notes…in the forms of bulleted lists.

You might have the bullet lists animated by coming in from the left, one by one, so you go to:

  1. Reveal line…talk
  2. Reveal line…talk
  3. Reveal line…talk

And substantial research shows this doesn’t work. People remember very little of the presentation, your audience may shut down and hope they don’t have to endure any more death by PowerPoints.

I’m sure you’re not like that but you see my point. As a presenter, you deliver your content imperiously ensuring the audience remember the content and take action. You have to battle hard to combat the slides.

But it’s still not a visual presentation…it’s a presentation with some visual aids. Big difference, so let’s look at a way of achieving this.

Here’s the new bazaar if you want to have visual presentations and you may want to make a number of changes to how you plan and prepare your talks.

The New Process to Construct a Visual Presentation

  1. Set your objectives of the presentation
  2. Select the right method
  3. Organise a presentation structure
  4. Decide the content
  5. Visualise it
  6. Design and animate the slides
  7. Practise

Let’s dive into each one focussing on your PowerPoint since that’s the purpose of this article.

Set your objectives

Not a lot for me to say on this, except do it. What does your audience really need to achieve, not what you want to talk about. What do they want to understand, what do they want to be able to do, to commit to or agree to? Know your audience well and determine the timing. That’s the 3 prongs – objectives, audience and timing.

Select method

A stand up presentation might not be correct. A webinar might be better, a white paper, a telephone conference, a one to one.

Organise the structure

I mindmap my presentation structure as this starts my visualisation.  You need to become heavily visual shortly so it’s good to start with structure. Standard structure…introduction and gain interest, make your first point, second point, third point, questions and summary. If it’s a sales presentation – state the problem or pain being experienced, your solution with proof and a call to action.

More on structure another day

Decide content

Only include content that they really do need to achieve the objectives, not “filler” or “this might be useful”, or this “might add value”.  Just what they need to achieve the objectives. Then remove 20% of the content.

Now the fun part…

Visualise it

Presenting text on a screen doesn’t work. Words alone are not going to cut it as we’ve already seen; besides you want to avoid text only slides with the occasional piece of clipart. Every message can be visualised.

Think about the topic and contemplate how you can turn it into a graphic of some sort. Don’t worry about PowerPoint’s capability, that’ll come later, just think how you could turn this content into a visual depiction.

Think of a graphic that can be built on screen, animated to grow in front of the audience’s eyes. Each click of the mouse does something on the screen, either building, moving, fading, highlighting, zooming in or out and transitioning from one part of the picture to another.

Maybe it’s a photograph to provide a visual depiction.

Possibly a pie chart, a Venn diagramme, a pyramid, a map, bar charts.

Describe your message and make it visual, think of animation or movement not to distract or to look fancy but purely to draw the audience’s attention to a particular point, control their focus. The purpose is to control what they see and when. And you talk through each movement or transition.

There’s always a picture behind the content and message, you just need to look for it.

Design and animate your slides

Remember, resist worrying about what you think PowerPoint is capable of, you can get someone else to do that, learn or speak to me, I’ll show you. The latest version of PowerPoint can do things that a couple of years’ ago would take armies of Photoshop experts and flash programmers to create.

Templates work well, to give consistency of colours, brand and such. But don’t be tethered to the standard bullet lists, we want to get away from those.

Like most busy and frazzled business people you probably only use about 10% of PowerPoint’s capability. That’s not an insult; it’s a fact for many. With some training you can learn:

  • Shortcuts, tools and personalised toolbar setup
  • Using media – shapes, charts, photos, SmartArt. Inserting and customising
  • Advanced photo formatting
  • Animations combinations and precise motion paths – the various static and motion builds available for the slideshow
  • Charts and graph animations
  • Embedding video and audio


With all the animation and movement at every click, you’ll want to practice a whole lot more because there are no sentences and lists for you to read from. But you wanted a more professional and engaging presentation, didn’t you?

Practise so you know what’s going on behind you and then practise some more.

You now have a visual presentation, not a presentation with the occasional visual aid.