Ditching PPT: How to Give Great PR Presentations Without Slides

BY Kathy Ridgely Beal, director, communications and public relations,  American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics
Kathy Ridgely Beal, director, communications and public relations,
American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics

We’ve all seen one too many text-heavy, boring slide presentations, right? Death by PowerPoint bullets.

Most of us in PR have become accustomed to using slides for most or all of our presentations. But do we now rely on slides too much?

Next time you have to give a presentation, do something different: Create an engaging, memorable, powerful presentation without using a slide deck.

Just like when you’re crafting a press release, stop and think about your big idea. A great talk needs a unifying theme or central message. Before you write a single word, ask yourself these questions:

1. In 20 words or fewer, what do I want the audience to know at the end?

2. Why should the audience care about what I’m saying? What’s in it for them?

3. What do I want the audience to do? Do I want to inspire it to take action? To buy something? To give something? To join a cause? To better understand our mission or product? What is my call to action?

Jeff Bezos of Amazon is known for saying, “Think complex, speak simple.” It’s great advice. Know what your point is in advance, and keep it simple and focused. No meandering. Think first. Write second. Then practice, practice, practice.

Remember: Having a few memorable key points or clear, simple messages is better than trying to squeeze everything you know into one presentation. Don’t try to say too much.

Outline Before Writing

Make your presentation logical and easy to follow. Having a unifying theme or message that flows throughout your presentation makes it easier for the listener to follow. There are a variety of ways to do an outline; figure out which one works best for you. I like to do my outline using numbered cue cards so I can actually move the main points and sections around as I continue to develop and practice my presentation.

Count It Out

A handy tip I learned long ago during my early years in PR and communications is to use numbers to organize your message. Here are some examples of how to package your message in an easy-to-understand way using numbers:

  • “The three main things I want you to take away from this presentation are...”
  • “Our marketing plan is going to have four phases...the first phase will focus on...”
  • “We’ve got two main target audiences. Our plan for the first target audience will consist of...”
  • “There are six steps to learning the new software.”
  • “If you remember anything about our new product, it should be these three key benefits...”
  • “What you need to know about how to make a great event includes five planning steps.”
  • “Our new packaging is different in three main ways.”

To reinforce your message, don’t be afraid to repeat yourself and to summarize each section. For example, you might say something along the lines of, “So, what are our three main objectives? They are X, Y and Z.”

Make It Like a Story: Stories create human connections. Quotes can also create attention and a central theme. And personal stories—stories about you, something you experienced, someone you know—can be particularly powerful. Be human and relatable. Tell the audience something about yourself to break the ice.

Think low tech. Great presentations are about human-to-human interaction. Make eye contact. One of the biggest drawbacks to a slide presentation is that it tends to make your presentation less human. You may have noticed that speakers using a slide presentation tend to turn to face their slides, sometimes even turning their backs to the audience completely. And people tend to focus their attention on the slides, which typically have way too much text, instead of listening to the speaker.

Rehearse and Record Yourself

We’ve all heard someone say they do better when they just “wing it.” And some presenters may appear to be so natural that they seem like they are just “winging it,” or speaking off the top of their head. But even renowned speakers are known to spend hours and hours practicing and rehearsing.

Rehearse. Know your first minute thoroughly. Speak out loud. Don’t just say it in your head. It’s better to practice in front of people. Don’t forget to make eye contact.

Record yourself giving the presentation. With today’s smartphones, there’s almost no excuse to avoid doing this. Then watch or listen to yourself. Rehearsing can make the difference between a good presentation and a great one.

What if you lose your train of thought or your place while giving a presentation? There are a few options for recovering. Having a plan in advance can help you to recover as soon as possible. You can:

  • Buy some time, take a few steps, stop and take a breath. Then look at your audience and begin again.
  • Ask for help. If you have no idea where you were in your presentation, you can ask your audience, “So, where was I?” The people listening to your presentation are human too and they have likely been in your shoes. They feel your pain—let them help you out.
  • Be honest. You can say that you have lost your place and then take a moment to look at your outline or cue cards to get back on track. If you feel comfortable using humor, you can make a comment to break the tension. (“Oh man, I appear to be having a brain hiccup—give me a moment to reboot, please.”) It may seem like eternity to you but not to the audience. Keep your cool.

It also is important to plan for objections and questions and to have your answers prepared in advance. It’s also OK to admit to an audience that you don’t know something.

Use Props and Plan to Move

Sure, it might seem old school to suggest bringing visual aids. But who can forget Steve Jobs standing on stage and simply holding up the MacBook Air? What can you bring, show or demo to engage the audience?

Remember your college professor who would actually walk around the lecture hall or classroom? Remember how it kept your attention focused on the class and on the professor when he or she did that? Case closed. By getting out from behind the podium or by moving around the room, you are keeping the attention on you and your presentation and away from email, Twitter and what’s for lunch.

Think Dialogue

PR pros know the days of one-way communication are a thing of the past. Think of your presentation the way you think about media: as a dialogue. You will get more out of the presentation and your audience will, too.

We realize this is the age of easy distractions: text messages, emails, tweets, Facebook, Instagram and news updates have made keeping an audience focused on you and your talk more difficult.

Combat the digital distractions by asking questions. Do a show of hands. Have audience members write down something. Consider giving a pre- or post-presentation test. It doesn’t have to be complicated, but by engaging people in learning and in seeking answers to the questions in your test, you will automatically bring attention to your content.

Wrapping It Up

You’ve probably heard the statistic about people’s worst fears. The second biggest fear for most people is death...and the biggest is public speaking.

But by connecting on a human level, being prepared with a central theme, planning your presentation, practicing multiple times and incorporating audience participation, you’ll be able to engage your audience with your words and ideas instead of with bullets in a slide presentation.

CONTACT: kbeal@acmg.net

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 29, 2016, issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.

Why You Should Have Handouts

  • Many people actually will read them.
  • Handouts are a way to reinforce your key points, facts and figures.
  • Handouts help people to know how to get in touch with you.
  • A handout is where you should put your charts, graphs, data, etc.
  • Distribute your handouts at the end—not at the beginning—of your presentation. You don’t want people reading your handouts instead of listening to you.


  • Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery by Garr Reynolds (New Riders)
  • Toastmasters International – toastmasters.org“
  • 32 Public Speaking Tips From Some Of The World’s Best Speakers and Coaches” – speakerslife.com/public-speaking-tips/