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Building effective presentations

Wow /
Nadia Basil
Senior Director of Marketing
May 5, 2020


Ask any consultant, marketer, or meme on Instagram about presentations, and you’re met with the same response: consultants spend a lot of time building slides.

From showcasing data trends to sharing project launch plans, presentations guide conversations and help you stay on track during a meeting. But the fear of creating, and being on the receiving end of a poor presentations is real, too. Exhaustion-inducing presentations are everywhere.


The major caveat of what makes an effective presentations is not the medium itself - but how the medium is being used. To further the point, here's an interesting quote from "Leading Edge Marketing Research: 21st Century Tools and Practices": 

"A consulting mindset is focused on making changes happen... It's not about lengthy PowerPoints; it's about figuring out the important few things that the company needs to act on and being a catalyst for action.”

At Manual Labor, we’ve found that some truths remain solid across the board - regardless of company size, industry or culture. Below, we’ve rounded up 9 of our best practices for delivering effective presentations - and inspiring action from your audience.  

1. Focus on your audience 

The idea that it’s not about you is especially clear in consulting: our goal is helping clients achieve their goals. The same importance applies when you’re creating a presentation for stakeholders in your company: What is your audience expecting from this presentation? 

Remember the rule of three: tell people what you’re going to tell them, tell them again, and tell them one more time. Applying this directly to presentations: make note of the goal in the introduction, call it out again as you present your findings, and close your presentation with the same key points. 

More from Art Markman’s Getting an Audience to Remember Your Presentation

“One advantage of the often-used strategy, “tell people what you’re going to tell them, tell them, and tell them what you told them” is that you provide an overview of the key points of the presentation in the two positions in which the audience is most likely to remember them. Unfortunately, many speakers open their talk with an anecdote that is engaging, but only tangentially relevant to the topic of the presentation. The audience may easily recall this anecdote later, but it won’t help them to learn what they really needed to know.” 

Your role, effectively, is spelling everything out for your audience's benefit. 

Which brings us to the next point… 

2. Set a framework 

Setting a framework slide is one of the most important elements of your presentation. It’s the beginning of your packaging exercise, and the first part to setting you up for success. It's the guidepost that allow you to be successful, so expectations can be addressed and met.

How Manual Labor does it: Sam Choi, CEO and Chief Creative Officer: "Setting a framework is more than an agenda or outline; it's allowing the audience to understand and prepare for what they are about to see. Building a framework is also a great way to introduce the takeaways for your team." 

3. Strive for absolute clarity / Respect the prep

It’s your job to lead the audience to the point of the presentation. To check for clarity, step away from your work, share with a colleague, and ask yourself if you're telling a cohesive story to your audience.

How Manual Labor does it: Todd Cadley, CMO and President of Manual Labor: “This is part of the 'respect the prep' part of your presentation. By practicing and refining, you build confidence in the story you want to evoke and the outcomes you want to achieve. Part of that is making sure clarity is coming through loud and clear. Pun intended."  

4. Highlight “Aha!” Zones

Don’t leave it up to your audience to derive the interesting takeaways from your slides. As part of the storytelling process, an easy way to draw attention is to highlight the most important areas; or, as HBR calls it, “Aha Zones”

Every valuable chart or pie graph has an “Aha!” zone — a number or range of data that reveals something crucial to your point. Smart presenters explain the relevance of the “Aha!” zone orally, sharing the learning, trend, or story the data is telling. Better presenters explain it out loud, but also write it on the slide as a bullet. But the best presenters do all of the above AND visually highlight the “Aha!” zone itself with a circle or shading to reach the differentiated (aural, verbal, visual) learners in their audience, as well as to triple-reinforce the most important data takeaways.

Presenting something very interesting? Highlight it on the slide to draw user attention. 

5. Less is more 

With all the talk about data, we have reached the proverbial crossroads of best practices for presentation aesthetics. 

How Manual Labor does it: In the timeless words of our Creative Director, Kenny Doss: “Just say no to adding a paragraph of text on your slide.” 

As a rule of thumb, include one strong qualifier per data point. Of course, you can always leverage the notes section to prepare for follow-up questions, but being succinct on the slide is key. 

6. Review all slides to ensure there’s a cohesive story 

If you want to grab someone's attention, telling a story is critical. Even stats and hard data need a story - it requires context to paint the picture you're looking for people to see. 

From John Kim’s “Consulting Secret: stories and storytelling”: 

Consultants tell stories. From the time we make proposals to clients, we are telling stories of how we did the work previously, how the industry is changing, what we know of their competitors, and why we can be trusted as consultants. When we recruit, we tell candidates what we are looking for, and paint a picture of what their life and career will be like, if they join us. When we make recommendations, consultants pull together all the data, interviews, benchmarks, industry trends, hypotheses, and insights into a cohesive narrative, which is often told by Powerpoint.  Simply, we tell stories.

7. Don't forget the visuals

Visual hierarchy matters. As the presenter, your responsibility is to lead your audience, and that can be accomplished using design to lead the viewer's eyes.

How Manual Labor does it: 

  • Size: When in doubt, use bigger typeface
  • Color & Font: Whatever you choose, make sure it’s consistent across the board 
  • Language: Again, consistency is key. Check for verb tense. 
  • Order: Add interstitial slides for breath and set-up. An example of one of Manual Labor’s divider slides below: 


8. Explain the Methodology 

This is simple: Tell your audience how you pulled you findings - whether they're quantitative or qualitative. With analytics tools and an abundance of data, explaining the methodology is comforting to any audience (analytically-savvy or not). 

How Manual Labor does it:  we love using Hotjar to understand website page engagement and behavior. As much as the tool is intuitive to us, we’ve found it helpful to dedicate a single slide to the methodology in presentations. In the event the deck gets shared (which is great!) you can feel assured that even without your anecdotal feedback, the recipients of the presentation will have the information they need to understand. 

9. Send deck 24 hours ahead of the meeting 

Aim to send your presentation to your audience 24 hours before presenting. While this can feel like a lot, this gives the reader time to process and develop questions, and is always helpful to provide a resource to follow along with.