June 22, 2009 Program Summary
Presentation and summary by Adele Sommers

The Art, Science, and Story of
PowerPoint Presentation Design

Speaker Adele SommersOur June 22nd event
broke all attendance records with a terrific gathering of savvy chapter constituents who brought energy, insights, and curiosity to the presentation by Adele Sommers.

This overview introduced 10 types of design and delivery dilemmas, related mistakes, and a set of corresponding remedies. They can easily apply to any presentations you create with slide software, such as Microsoft® PowerPoint®, Apple® Keynote, or the free Google® Presentations software.

Rather than "how-to" training on any of these tools, this discussion focused on scientifically supported principles that you can use with any tool or situation.

Just about everyone who has spent any time in the corporate, government, or academic worlds has watched someone give a slide presentation that put the entire audience to sleep. Many of us were taught to follow a familiar model of designing presentations that, unfortunately, does not sustain attention or understanding. Throw in a heavy lunch, deliver it in mid-afternoon, and voila! You have the recipe for a coma!

Yet, around the world, the stakes have never been higher for business, technical, scientific, social, philanthropic, and academic endeavors. We're all looking for better ways to inform our audiences and inspire them to act.

That's why it's so essential to learn how to design compelling presentations that can amplify our messages. What we need is a workable and repeatable method for creating presentations that capture attention, impart ideas, and spark the audience responses we seek. A special formula, "Art + Science + Story = Impact!" can help you stand out from the crowd!

Here's what we covered in depth:

  1. How to make your presentation remarkable by starting off with a needs assessment.

  2. How to use the "artistic and multimedia principles" to polish your slides for any purpose or venue.

  3. When to incorporate the "story principles" to make the most powerful impression overall.

  4. How to apply three additional tips for creating impact during delivery.

Read Adele's tips, below, use the links further down to download the handouts, and see her contact and bio information at bottom.

“Your 'Secret Sauce' for Presentations:
Art + Science + Story = Impact!”

by Adele Sommers

What's the overarching formula
for making the very best possible impression on your audience when you deliver a slide presentation? How do you capitalize on the scarce and precious commodity that your audience is offering you, which is the gift of their time and attention?

This article, Part 4 in a series, recaps the repeatable formula we have been discussing for creating truly outstanding presentations. (For previous articles in the series, please see Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.) This formula comprises a set of powerful artistic and story-telling principles that are scientifically supported.

We can summarize the ideas behind this presentation formula in these simple terms:

Art + Science + Story = Impact!

The "Art + Science + Story = Impact" formula

Begin by Building a Step-by-Step Foundation for Your Presentation

Each of these four stages is explained in greater detail in the sections that follow.

1. First, start with a needs assessment to determine what and how much to do. Depending on whether the impression you need to make is low-key or high-stakes, you can decide which principles of the formula to apply.

Four-level presentation planning pyramid2. Second, if your situation is fairly low-key, or you have relatively little time, plan to use the Artistic and Multimedia Principles at a minimum to maximize your audience's ability to understand and retain your ideas.

3. Third, if your situation is high-stakes, plan to apply the Story Principles as well to help make your presentation exceptionally memorable and actionable.

4. Fourth, plan to use three crucial delivery tips when you go to present your slide show in person.

1. Start with a Needs Assessment to Make Your Presentation Remarkable

Needs assessment clipboardBefore you get started, aim to do some preliminary planning. This important first step can make the difference between a world-class presentation and just another forgettable slide show!

After all, you could eventually expend considerable effort to conceptualize, design, script, illustrate, rehearse, and deliver your slide presentation. So, why not consider which aspects of your situation are most important to you?

Ask yourself at least 5 key questions about your purpose, audience, their actions, the setting, and future uses of your material, as follows:

1) What's the purpose, what's at stake, and how critical is the outcome?

2) What is your anticipated audience's frame of reference?

3) What actions do you want your audience to take as a result?

4) Where are you planning to deliver the presentation -- in person or online?

5) In the future, could your presentation expand into something more?

In response to these questions, you can decide how to scale your time and energy investment to suit the needs of your presentation scenario, including how casual or critical it is. (See Part 3 of the series for more details.)

2. Use the Artistic & Multimedia Principles in Any Situation

If you have relatively little time, or the stakes are fairly low, and you have no plans to expand or redeploy your presentation in the future, you can still make a pleasing impression and produce it fairly quickly using the Artistic & Multimedia principles. These principles pertain to the use of text, graphics, details, and special effects (see more information in Part 2):

  • Art + Science part of the formulaTip #1: Text – Display only one basic idea per slide. Place your talking points (your narration script) in your handouts and speaker notes.
  • Tip #2: Graphics – Let relevant and symbolic photos; drawings; screen captures; and simple maps, charts, graphs, and diagrams do most of the visual "heavy lifting."
  • Tip #3: Details – Put the intricate image details in the handouts instead of on the slides to avoid overloading your audience's visual processing abilities. Avoid "branding" your slides with your logo, which can be distracting.
  • Tip #4: Special effects – Use relevant sounds, videos, animations, transitions, and physical props -- in moderation -- to highlight or demonstrate key points.

3. Use the Story Principles for the Most Powerful Impression Overall

If you have more time, and the stakes are fairly high, or you think you might later develop the presentation into other products or uses, strongly consider applying all of the recommendations. These include the Story Principles, which pertain to your presentation's focus, structure, and scope (explained in more detail in Part 2):

  • Art + Science part of the formulaTip #5: Focus – Begin by framing your audience's role, perspective, and needs. Then introduce the challenge the audience faces and your solution, and explain the actions that the audience members can take.
  • Tip #6: Structure – Create a logical sequence and flow based on a scalable hierarchy of detail, starting with an audience orientation.
  • Tip #7: Scope – "Chunk" all of your material into just 3–4 main topics. Include reviews along the way to summarize your information. Practice extensively beforehand while timing yourself, so you can then "scope" your talk using the scalable 5-, 15- and 45-minute detail hierarchy from your outline.

4. Keep These Final Points in Mind to Create Impact During Delivery

After you've worked so diligently to create an outstanding, well-illustrated story that focuses on your audience's needs, use these three tips to make sure your delivery is just as compelling:

  • Tip #8: Remember to face your audience. If you break eye contact with your attendees to read from projected slides, it interrupts the flow and further splits the audience’s attention.

  • Tip #9: Remember to converse with your audience. Not engaging the audience enough during your presentation invites their attention to wander elsewhere.
  • Tip #10: Remember to respect your audience’s time. Running way overtime trying to cover too much information in the time available dilutes your impact and can even cause resentment.

In conclusion, an engaging slide presentation helps broadcast a clear, powerful message; you might have only one opportunity to communicate your ideas effectively. But if you start with a needs assessment to determine what to do, you can then use the Art + Science + Story = Impact formula to make every presentation a smashing success!

Copyright 2009 Adele Sommers

Downloads & Resources:

To access the presentation materials, please go to the STC Presentations resources page. There, you can download or view the following items:

  • Presentation Resources (PDF, 84K)
  • 10 Common Presentation Mistakes and How to Avoid Them (PDF, 100K)
  • Needs Assessment Worksheet for Presentations (summary version, PDF, 128K)
  • “The Art, Science, and Story of PowerPoint Presentation Design” Outline (PDF, 220K)
  • “The Art, Science, and Story of PowerPoint Presentation Design” Report (95 pages)

More Training...

For more information on presentation design training, please follow this link.

Questions? Please e-mail:

  • Adele at Adele@LearnShareProsper.com
“The Art, Science, and Story of PowerPoint Presentation Design”
Date: Monday evening, June 22, 2009

Adele Sommers, Ph.D. is the 2002-09 president of the San Luis Obispo STC chapter, and has been an independent business and technical communication consultant for twelve years following a career in the aerospace industry.

Adele is president of Business Performance Inc. (LearnShareProsper.com) which specializes in business publications, tools, consulting, workshop facilitation, training, and e-learning. Adele has helped companies of all sizes enhance their results in project and process management, technical communication and information design, instructional design, quality assurance, performance support, and leadership. Contact Adele at Adele@LearnShareProsper.com.


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