Be honest with yourself. How much would you say your talks stand out from other people’s? More to the point, how much would your audience say your talks stand out?
Whether you work in business or education, audiences see so many presentations that standing out can be tough. But, on the other hand, presentations don’t tend to vary much, which makes your task easier!
You and your message really need to stand out to be remembered and get talked about, which both help you turn your talk into audience action. (After all, if people don’t act differently once your talk’s over, what tangible effect has it had?)
And, as Sally Hogshead (a member of the Speaker Hall of Fame) so bluntly puts it:
“Stand out or don’t bother”
Well, in the overview of the FiRST framework, I suggested a mnemonic (“OPQRS”) to segment your approach to standing out, and to help you remember related techniques.
That mnemonic stands for 5 categories of tips, in topics that are key to standing out:
You can click any of those links to jump ahead to specific tips. Or, just carry on reading…
O – OverhaulScroll to Contents ↑
Approach your presentation in a strikingly different way
Think of the countless presentations happening around the world, every minute of the day. To stand out from all that competition, you really need to approach your presentation in a strikingly different way. So it’s fitting that the 1st element for standing out is about doing a complete overhaul of the usual approach to presenting.
I urge you to do that in these 3 ways:
Let’s dig into each of those in more detail…
Don’t use slides as a crutchScroll to Contents ↑
From an audience’s viewpoint, the reason PowerPoint (and other slideware) has an awful reputation is that almost all presenters abuse it so badly!
Remember that you don’t need slides at all
To avoid that when you present, and to stand out boldly as a result, first remember that you don’t need slides at all. In fact, talks supported by just a flipchart or whiteboard – or even without any visual aids – tend to be more engaging, memorable, and dare I say enjoyable than a typical slide-show. And that’s true for the audience and the presenter!
As an example, here’s just 1 minute of self-help guru Brendon Burchard using a flipchart like a boss. Notice he removes note paper to reveal key words he’s written on the chart in advance, so it’s clear he’s working to a strong structure he’s developed already. Yet he also fills in pre-drawn blanks by hand, which makes his delivery dynamic, and novel:
Use these 6 tips to strengthen your slideshow
All the same, if you do decide to use slides, use them to help your audience – not yourself. To do that, you can use these 6 tips to strengthen your slideshow:
|1.||Present just 1 thought per slide, which keeps your message clear. (A helpful tip’s to write the thought as a statement, and use it as the slide’s title.)|
|2.||Favour true visuals like charts, diagrams and photos rather than text. To help people understand your visuals, you’ll still need to use some text (like in your slide titles), but to keep that in perspective, see the next point too…|
|3.||Have at most about 15 words per slide (including words on charts and diagrams). Otherwise, people get distracted from what you’re saying – by reading!|
|4.||Use your slide notes for any excess text. That lets you still refer to it – using Presenter View, or even a printout – but your audience isn’t distracted by it.|
|5.||Use “builds” to reveal your content gradually, as you mention it – even if it’s in a chart or diagram – so people listen to you instead of just looking at your slide. (Shocking, I know!)|
|6.||Turn the screen black when you either open a discussion or tell a story (unless you’re presenting online, in which case a black slide’s like “dead air”). That prevents your slide from competing for attention, so people feel more engaged.|
Help people reach their goalsScroll to Contents ↑
Most speakers are fixated on their own content. So instead of that, if you think of your talk as a way to help your audience reach their goals, what changes? A lot does!
From your viewpoint:
- First you need to consider your listeners, and what their goals are.
- Then, you need to focus on what action people’ll take to reach their goals. (You no longer focus on your topic for its own sake.)
- And lastly, you need to structure and phrase your talk in their terms, so they can easily grasp and act on it.
Focus on what action people’ll take to reach their goals
From your audience’s viewpoint, the result is a far more engaging and helpful presentation. And because people rarely describe a talk as “engaging and helpful”, you and your content will stand way out!
To help people reach their goals, try these tips:
- Answer people’s key question, which is “What’s in it for me?”
- Present a clear call-to-action.
- Consider using an audience-focused structure for your talk.
Touch people’s feelingsScroll to Contents ↑
Very few presenters touch their listeners’ feelings
Very few presenters touch their listeners’ feelings, especially at work, yet doing so’s really the secret to inspiring and persuading people.
But don’t worry, you don’t necessarily need to make people laugh – or cry! You can make them feel something less dramatic, like being:
- Shocked by a startling statistic.
- Intrigued about what you’ll say next.
- Engaged by a story about beating stiff competition.
“Your thoughtfulness in developing stories is one
of the most important things you can ever do”
So here’s 3 tips to help you touch people’s feelings:
- Start strong (from your very 1st words) with an opening line that’s either:
- a scenario – that is, asking people to picture a risk or reward they face
- a startling statistic
- the start of a story you then tell
- or, what professional speaker Jon Acuff calls a lean-in line.
- Intrigue people at the start of your talk, and several times during it. For instance, if you’re speaking about business results, you might simply say something like:
“Can you guess who this month’s top performers are?
[Pause to let people guess in their heads]
In third place we have…”
- Tell emotive stories that make a point about your topic – at any stage of your talk. For example, in a business setting, you might talk about:
- Success of a recent happy customer.
- Threat from a specific competitor.
- Inspiration you get from one of your colleagues.
As an example of how to start strong (in this case with a startling statistic), here’s the 1st few seconds of Jamie Oliver’s talk at TED:
P – PicturesScroll to Contents ↑
Pictures are vital in any effective slide deck, yet most presenters have negligible graphic design skills! So that means graphical content is full of ways you can stand out.
For our purposes, you can think of pictures as being in these 4 categories:
Most of the tips below focus on photos and diagrams. So before looking at those, let’s just briefly touch on logos and icons…
LogosScroll to Contents ↑
So many presenters put their company logo on each slide
There’s a classic mistake with logos: So many presenters put their company logo on each slide. That’s a mistake because repeating your logo like that doesn’t help your audience. In fact, it subtly hinders them (by adding “noise”).
So to stand out from the masses, first don’t put your logo on each slide. In fact, to go further, “bookend” your slide deck with a very big copy of the logo instead. (You can find full details by clicking the link.)
I’ve never seen any other presenter use that technique, so you’ll stand out enormously!
IconsScroll to Contents ↑
Professional presentation designers who’ve been trained in graphic design often use icons. But the vast majority of presenters don’t, so if you use them, you’ll stand out and look highly professional.
As professional slide designer Bethany Auck puts it:
“A simple way for any non-designer to
add visual interest… is to include icons”
And because icons are like visual shorthand, they’re a great way to represent concepts, especially if you’ll mention the same concepts several times during your talk.
Using icons makes your slides:
- more visual
- more cohesive
- and more appealing.
For all those reasons, I strongly recommend using icons.
PhotosScroll to Contents ↑
With photos, perhaps the 2 commonest mistakes presenters make are:
- Not making the photos big enough.
- Using shots that look staged. (Either the photos contain striking models who’re all smiling. Or, for shots of objects, the focus and lighting’s uniform, so the photos look like they were taken in a studio.)
In all those cases, the photos don’t stir people’s emotions, so your audience feels less engaged with your message as a whole.
Photos can be really handy for expressing… empathy, awe, or even humour
For example, photos can be really handy for expressing fairly complex emotions like empathy, awe, or even humour. They can also be helpful because you don’t always need to express the emotion yourself (which you mightn’t feel comfortable doing in a business setting).
In a talk on planning, for instance, you could get smiles (or laughs) from your audience with the photo below. That bit of “fun” makes you stand out, and people are much more likely to remember your message, too:
I strongly recommend this next tip, as it’s one of the most powerful ways to show a photo:
- Make it so big that it touches at least 3 sides of your slide.
But what if the photo’s too emotive at that size (like when it’s a closeup of someone’s face)? Or, suppose you just have a small copy that looks blurred when it’s that big, or you simply want to give your audience more variety. In cases like those, use the tips below, which get less common as you go down this list:
- Add a visual effect like a frame, shadow, rotation (up to about 10°), and/or reflection to the shot. In PowerPoint, you can do that easily by double-clicking the photo to open the Format tab, then clicking an icon in the Picture Styles drop-down box.
- Put the photo on a “belly band” (a coloured stripe that’s the full width or height of the slide) for a more unusual effect. That makes your photo look like its size is deliberate, rather than the shot just seeming to “float” rather randomly on the slide.
- Show the photo on a black slide (with nothing else on the screen) to make it really stand out, like the example below (which also uses a frame and a 5° rotation):
DiagramsScroll to Contents ↑
Speakers tend to underuse diagrams (in favour of bullet points…)
Diagrams can be a great way to stand out, because speakers tend to underuse them (in favour of bullet points and other text).
Still, two of the commonest types are timelines and process flow diagrams. So if you include either of those, use one or both of these points to make your diagram stand out:
- Make it look professionally designed:
- Avoid the vivid colours used in common PowerPoint themes, which so many presenters use – choose colours that are less glaring (with lower saturation).
- If you want people to focus on a key part of the diagram, use a highlight colour for that part, and 1 or more shades of a 2nd colour for the rest.
- Or, if you want to show that various parts of the diagram have distinct meanings, use a different colour (along with icons to help everyone who’s colourblind) for each of those parts. For instance, to show the status of different tasks, you might use red, orange and green.
- To label various parts, use callouts like you might see in a magazine article (that is, vertical and/or horizontal lines with a small dot or ring at the end). For example, that’s what Yousef Abu-Ghaidah, a pro slide designer did in this funnel diagram, part of which I’ve enlarged to show one of the callouts:
- Use your diagram in an unconventional way that helps your audience, like these tips you can use with timelines or process diagrams:
- Instead of a typical agenda, use a timeline (or pie chart) to show how long you’ll spend on each part of your talk, as so well explained by Glenna Shaw, who’s a PowerPoint MVP.
- Nancy Duarte suggests making a timeline or process flow too wide for your slide, then using a Push transition to scroll it to the left, to show time passing. You can download an example flow diagram from the Duarte website. (After following that link, scroll down to the Push Transition section.)
Q – QuotesScroll to Contents ↑
Few presenters tap the power of a great quote
Especially when speaking at work, few presenters tap the power of a great quote. So to stand out from the crowd, be one of the small number who do.
As an example, suppose you’re speaking at a conference about the future of work. If you want to be provocative, you might use this quote from Tim Ferris:
“Being busy is a form of laziness –
lazy thinking and indiscriminate action.”
Use these 3 key tips to help you and your quote stand out:
- Be shrewd, by which I mean:
- Quote people or publications your audience admires. For instance, if you’re speaking to a business audience, you might quote Warren Buffett or Harvard Business Review.
- Make sure each quote nails the point you’re making (rather than just being loosely related).
- To keep people engaged, I recommend you use at most 2 quotes in any talk. And if you often present to the same audience (like at work), use quotes in just some of your talks there.
- Keep it short. There’s real power in a punchline, so keep your quotes punchy.
- Make it shine. To make the most of your quote, format it in big, highly readable text. And for that professional “graphic designer” look, put it in oversize quotation marks.
1. Be shrewd.
2. Keep it short.
3. Make it shine.
For more on using quotes, see these 25+ tips.
R – RefinementsScroll to Contents ↑
By “refinements”, I mean small changes you make to your slides – and the way you present – so you look more professional, helping you and your message stand out.
Here are the top 3 refinements I recommend:
- Avoid vivid colours. Presenters often choose a design theme with highly saturated colours, which look less professional than more muted shades. For instance, some colours from the default Office Theme are shown on the slide below. To stand out, I suggest you tone down your palette and use colours more thoughtfully.
- Vary your pace according to your content. And, to let your listeners properly absorb your message, try to pause for about 2 seconds after most sentences you say.
- Enhance the Q&A. Most presenters tend to keep the same slide on the screen the whole time they’re answering questions. So to stand out (and to keep people visually engaged), why not show “theme” slides that represent each question? That’s especially useful if you’re presenting online, where people get distracted more easily. But my main tip is not to end on questions and answers, because if you do, you can’t control how your talk ends. So instead, save your powerful closing words for after the Q&A.
Highly saturated colours look less professional
Below are some of the vivid colours in the Office Theme mentioned above. Do they look familiar – especially the darker blue in the shape on the left?
S – StatisticsScroll to Contents ↑
When speakers use statistics or other numeric data, such as charts, they tend to flood the screen with them. The result? People tune out, and the data’s meaning is lost – along with its impact.
Slash the amount of data you present, which launches its impact
It’s far better to slash the amount of data you present, which launches its impact sky high. You can choose from 3 methods for doing that – arranged here from most to least impactful:
- If there’s a single, startling statistic that expresses what you want to convey, and it relates to an amount of physical material, use a prop to represent it if you can. For instance, that’s what Jamie Oliver did when he showed the amount of sugar served in milk at school.
- If there’s a single, startling statistic, but it doesn’t relate to something you can show as a prop, instead show the number in a huge font, with no other figures in sight. This is also a great time to use an emotive photo, to show the impact on people.
- If your data contains a pattern that you want to portray, show it in a chart. For instance, suppose sales volumes varied just slightly from month to month for most of the last year. But then for the last 3 months they markedly decreased month-on-month. In cases like that, a column chart (or a line chart) is a great way to show the dramatic change over time.
When using charts, probably the 2 commonest gaffes are:
- Having too many charts (causing “chart fatigue” in the audience).
- Not making each chart’s meaning clear.
So, to stand out from other presenters when using charts, first I suggest:
- Put no more than 1 chart on any slide. (If you can’t convey the slide’s message with just 1 chart, I’d say you’ve used the wrong chart!)
- Have at most 2 chart slides in a row.
- Where you can, use more non-chart slides than chart slides in your deck.
Then, to make each chart’s meaning clear:
- State the meaning in the slide title, or in a large caption. For instance, you might write:
“Recent sales dropped 30% month-on-month”
- Use just one colour for most of the chart’s bars (or slices, if you’re using a pie chart), and highlight the main point in a contrasting colour. For example, to show that sales for the last 3 months have decreased sharply, you could colour those 3 bars orange and the other bars blue.
- Remove as much clutter, or “chart junk”, as you can. That means getting rid of unneeded items like axis lines, legends, labels, gridlines, and tick marks.
Over to youScroll to Contents ↑
This is a long post, so well done for getting to the end! Please add your own thoughts in the comments.
- Which part of the “OPQRS model” appeals to you most?
- Do you do something else to stand out?
Here’s a reminder of what’s in this post:
See alsoScroll to Contents ↑
- 5 ways to be a top presenter – meet the F!RST framework
- Minimise “blur” (F!RST framework – part 1m)
- Learn 4 pro slide layouts – in 2 minutes [Video]
- How to use quotes in your presentation – 25+ tips from Six Minutes & me
- Starting your talk with a startling statistic – 3 examples [Video]
- Today’s most popular posts, and the latest visitor comments