PowerPoint For Techies: Get into your audience’s head

When you need to share information using PowerPoint, it is really easy to get lost in the use of the tool and forget that there will be someone watching what you are creating. When you are the expert (and you wouldn’t be presenting if someone didn’t think you were the expert), you have to let go of what you want to do and think about what your audience wants you to do.

The hardest piece of this from many presenters is to know what to tell the audience. You need to decide what the audience already knows, so that you don’t cover it a second time. You need to know what details most of the audience doesn’t really care about. (Those who care will ask. Believe me.) The third piece, what you want the audience to walk away with, is the content that will make up your presentation.

The best way I know how to get into the audience’s head and figure out what to tell them is to think about what I wanted to know when I first approached the subject. When presenting on PowerPoint, I know the audience wants to know how to use the tool. But I usually can guess that they know the basics of using Windows. So, I don’t need to go into how to type, how to work the mouse, how to save documents. On the other end of the scale, I know that there are things I do with the tool that my audience may not be ready to learn. Examples of that are the power user tips that may be nice to know, but aren’t necessary.

In between these two areas comes information on figuring out what to say, figuring out how to keep the audience involved in what I am saying and making sure that the audience leaves the presentation knowing more about PowerPoint than they did when they came in.

For me, this means setting up three sets of slides:

  • Things the audience should already know
  • Things I want the audience to learn
  • Things I want to have available to answer questions

The first presentation is a fairly standard presentation I keep in my back pocket in case the class is touching the computer for the first time. The third presentation is the FAQ and detail slides for the topic. The second presentation is the information I know I will present.

There is another piece of getting inside your audience’s head. You need to pay attention to your audience while you are presenting. If they look bored, you are probably going into too much detail. Speed it up a bit and skip the details when you can. If they look lost, you aren’t going into enough detail. Slow down and make sure they understand what you are doing and saying. (This is where those extra presentations come in handy.)

If giving more information is going to take time that you don’t have, then provide resources for the audience to check out after the session. That way, not only will they get what you need them to get, but they will also be able to fill in the gaps on their own.