PowerPoint™ slides are an essential element of most oral proposals. But they are meant to be an aid to your presentation. They are not the presentation — you are.

To make the most of your slides during your oral presentation, follow these guidelines.

  • Stand to the left of the slides, if the room setup allows. (Audiences read from left to right, so you want to stand where their eyes naturally go.)
  • Look at the people you’re speaking to at least 80% of the time. (You’re speaking to them, not to the slides.) Avoid turning your back on your audience.
  • Use your left hand to point to important parts of your slide. Avoid using any sort of pointer. (Most presenters, armed with a pointer, use it too much. They wave the collapsing metal pointers around like they’re wands or they use a laser pointer to highlight every word on the slide.) If you absolutely must use a pointer for certain slides, set it down after you’ve finished using it.
  • When a new slide comes up, look at it briefly to orient yourself. Then, turn to the audience and explain it to them as simply as possible.
  • When you finish explaining a complex slide, summarize its main point in one sentence.
  • Do not read your slides word for word. It’s boring. And it insults your audience’s intelligence.
  • As you work your way through bullet points, touch on the important ones, explaining or expanding on them in similar, not identical, terms. (Remember, people are going to be reading the slide as you’re talking about it. If you’re saying something totally unrelated to what they’re reading, they’ll get confused and stop listening to you.)
  • Finish each slide before turning to the next one. Your last sentence for each slide is often one of the most important, so say it while you’re looking at someone in the audience. Pause. Then call up your next slide.
  • Have a backup plan in case something goes wrong. Murphy’s Law — “if anything can go wrong, it will” — applies in spades to anything involving technology and an audience.

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See also Designing PowerPoint Slides for an Oral Proposal.

Chris Witt is an presentations coach based in San Diego who specializes in providing team coaching for oral proposals. For more information, contact us.