“The Best Presentations in Life…Are Short”


Final posters created by students as an outcome of the climate change classroom project

It’s not always easy to give a presentation to a large crowd. In fact, there’s often a variety of challenges that make it difficult to successfully convey the overall message in a way that will resonant with a majority of attendees. Lacking a thorough understanding of the audience, as well as, a lengthy, text-heavy PowerPoint presentation are the two key ingredients in a recipe for disaster. There is little worse than having to sit through 100 slides of data tables with atom-sized text, right after you’ve eaten a big lunch. For all the aforementioned reasons, it is important to make a concerted effort to keep presentations short, sweet, and to the point.

A presentation given by Kyle Pimental (SRPC) and Amanda Stone (UNH Cooperative Extension) at this year’s Northern New England Chapter of the American Planning Association (NNECAPA) Annual Meeting is an example of how a 15-minute timeslot was treated as a framework and not a constraint. The presentation covered a project in which staff from SRPC and UNH Cooperative Extension partnered up with two Oyster River Middle School teachers to coordinate a climate change lesson for 5th grade students and their parents.

In order to directly engage conference audience members, which were predominately planners, the opening slide was designed to tell a story of a day in the life of a planner. Descriptions included: the 7PM meeting at an unnamed town hall; an impatient planning board with a packed agenda; and the topic of sea-level rise impacts on downtown developments. The primary reason for this opening slide was to illustrate traditional audiences and to recognize that the input of parents and young children is often absent from many local land use discussions and decisions. This introduced the concept of engaging young children and using them as a conduit to reach their parents in some of these discussions outside of the typical “town hall” format.

Most of the slides were photos from the in-classroom activity with the project team and the subsequent workshop where students had the opportunity to present their findings to parents and local decision-makers. Other slides depicted the final posters the students created throughout the project.

The narrative followed suit and covered the process of how the project team worked with the teachers to develop a program to include an education component, a class activity, and a community workshop. Quotes from both students and parents were shown and read out loud to showcase specific examples of what they had learned. The presenters ended with some simple advice about how to replicate the effort in another school or community.

From beginning to end the entire presentation took less than 13 minutes. No one fell asleep or got that glazed-over look on their face. It was engaging, informative, and most importantly SHORT!

Five things to remember when creating a professional PowerPoint presentation…

  1. Step outside the immediate realm of your work profession and place yourself in the shoes of your audience. Open the presentation with something that’s relatable and lets them know you understand who they are.
  2. Keep it short. The audience doesn’t need or want to know everything. You should always use less text and fewer slides than you think you need.
  3. Keep it simple and appealing. Use photos and graphics to illustrate your talking points. Avoid text-heavy slides. When text is necessary – use a larger font. The audience shouldn’t need a telescope to read your slides.
  4. Be creative and use your imagination when telling your story. Incorporate a funny anecdote or a memorable quote. These will help your audience remember key points.
  5. If you practice, you need less text on your slides because you solidify and commit to memory what you want to say in your mind. People can always tell when a presenter hasn’t prepared. Yes, you are busy, but so is your audience. Be respectful of their time. And if you’re rushing when you practice, go back and cut more content.