Problem #1: PowerPoint is a Crux
Presenters depend too much on PowerPoint to deliver their presentation by reading each slide to the audience. Unless there are pre-schoolers in the room, attendees can read each slide quite well unless the slides suffer from too much copy or a complicated chart.
Solution: Use keywords on slides instead of complete sentences. What's important to remember is that the speaker is the most important element of a presentation. It's up to the speaker to inform and persuade the audience about something important. The speaker does that; not the slides themselves. If someone wanted to obtain the content, he or she can do a Google search and gain extensive material in just a few seconds.
Using key words on slides are more for the speaker than they are for the audience because the slides serve as visual cues the speaker uses to remember what he or she wants to say. As a result, if there is ancillary material, these can be put in handouts, sent as a follow-up e-mail attachment to attendees or downloaded from the speaker's website.
Problem #2: Slides are Too Complicated
Accountants are notorious for presenting slides that are way too complicated, with spreadsheets and graphs that no one past the front row can really see very clearly. I cringe when a presenter says, "I know those of you in the back of the room can't see this, but ..." If the presenter knows that, why in the world would he include a spreadsheet in his slides?
Solution: Think like a member of the audience. Try walking a mile in the shoes of your audience. In other words, if you were in the audience, would you want to see a slide with a complicated graph or chart? Probably not.
Here are some basic tips:
• Avoid font sizes less than 18 points and use the 8H Rule, explained very well in the link.
• Keep fonts and sizes consistent in headlines and bulleted copy.
• Always avoid inserting a spreadsheet UNLESS you only focus on three to four cells on a single slide.
• Don't abuse animation or slide effects, awkward slide transitions or moving text.
A simple Internet search will yield quite a bit of advice on how to create a more readable slide. I like these sources:
About.com - Presentation Software
PP Tools - PowerTools for PowerPoint PowerUsers
Ten Secrets for Using PowerPoint Effectively
Microsoft: Which Fonts Look Good in a Presentation?
Problem #3: Attendees Do Not Pay Attention
If attendees do not pay attention, it's probably because your presentation is boring or they have a short attention span. They might be checking their e-mail, daydreaming, napping, reading USA Today, reading your handouts or committing the worst crime of all: allowing their cell phones to ring.
Solution: Cut off these diversions right away. There's absolutely nothing wrong in saying the following to your audience:
• "Please turn off or silence your cell phones, and if you must take a call, please step outside." I recently was at a meeting where attendees were "fined" $10 per cell phone ring, with all fines going toward a drawing at the end of the day. The winner won $90 even after the contest was publicly announced.
• "I spent quite a bit of time preparing this content for you, so I would appreciate it if you would respect my time as well. Please avoid checking e-mail and try to stay awake." You'll get a few snickers from the audience, but you will get your point across.
• "Here's what I'm covering, but I would like to ask you what else you may want me to cover." Attendees will appreciate your willingness to cover other areas; if they admire you more as a presenter, they will be more likely to stay awake.
• "I'm not going to hand out my presentation prior to the talk, but I can make it available to you afterwards.
Expert presenters know that if they distribute a printout of the PowerPoint slides prior to the talk - or have them in the chairs - attendees will read the slides instead of listening. You can very easily make the presentation available afterwards as a handout, or collect business cards and send it by e-mail. If you're e-mailing it, be sure to convert the slides to a PDF. A PDF is much easier to read and helps protect the presenter's slides from being plagiarized. You cannot totally avoid this from happening, but a PDF helps.
One of the best pieces of advice I can give you is to test your presentation with a colleague or friend. He or she will give you honest feedback on how to improve so that you give the very best presentation possible - even if it is to a prospect.