Creating Web-Based Presentations

Last Updated May 1, 2007 7:36 PM EDT

Remote presentations—those delivered to customers online—are very different from presentations made in person. Their purpose is the same—to convey information in a way that has an impact—but they require important adaptations.

Web-based presentations serve some important purposes. First, they can add a rich dynamic to your company's web site; new customers can access them anytime from anyplace. They are also a great way to showcase an idea or a service to distant customers anywhere on the globe, when presenting in "real-time" or delivering in person is impossible.

Whatever the reason, your presentation will need to compensate for the dislocation of the audience from you, the presenter.

The presentation must

  • reinforce the image, brand, and overall message of your company;
  • engage the audience's attention;
  • anticipate and answer as many potential questions as possible; and,
  • be very user friendly.

Consider how your presentation looks and feels, how you can involve your audience, and what technology or software you will use to create it.

What You Need to KnowAre the principles for good web-based presentations different from conventional presentations?

Yes and no. It is most important to decide who your audience is, what you want to say; and, how to prepare and present your slides.

But, there is one huge difference: because you won't be there to explain the slides, visuals, or screens, each slide will have to be self-explanatory. The presentation must stand-alone and not just be the written speech you would have given had it been delivered in person.

It is very tempting to write pages and pages of text to explain everything. Don't! Web page designers work on the premise that reading speeds are more than 25 per cent slower from computer screens than from paper. But that doesn't mean you should write 25 per cent less—you should write 50 per cent less. They also work from the old adage that a picture is a worth one thousand words.

How can you best structure the presentation to capture the most viewers?

A good structure is essential in this context. People tend to scan the page, picking out individual words and sentences after they are attracted by the graphics and are motivated to learn more. Thus, your copy needs to be very clear and easily readable in order to get the message across quickly but only when it is accompanied with a lead graphic that enhances your point.

Heed the following:

  • when using text, keep sentences short and punchy;
  • limit each line to 12–13 words;
  • highlight keywords to catch, and keep, the reader's attention;
  • use one idea per paragraph, and keep paragraphs short—no more than three or four lines each;
  • break up the text wherever appropriate with sub-heads, bullet points, or numbered items;
  • make sure to use correct spelling and grammar.

Many people are more casual in virtual communications than in other business materials, but avoid idioms, slang, abbreviations, and, especially, internal acronyms. Remember; keep language simple but accessible to a global audience. It is best to write in International English.

To determine the right amount of copy, first write out your presentation text as if you were going to deliver it to an audience in person. Then cut it in half. Then cut it in half again. That should leave you with the essence of what you need to say.

What to DoGet the Right Look and Feel

As with other presentations, it is important that the look and feel of an online presentation is consistent with the rest of your company's image. Your audience should receive the same key message from the web presentation as it would from any other contact with your business as from your catalogue and stationery. Since you won't be there in person to reinforce the impression the presentation makes on your audience, it is critical you get it right before placing it on the web site.

When designing the look of the presentation keep, in mind these additional points:

  • avoid crowded text and use lots of white space;
  • use a light background with dark text;
  • choose your colors wisely. Although these should complement your corporate colors and logo, bright reds and yellows, for example, can be hard to read on a computer screen; paler shades or dark colors are easier on the eyes;
  • use a simple, non-serif font (like Arial) and a standard font size between 10–12 point;
  • illustrate key points with clear tables or graphics;
  • keep each page to one 15"- 17" screen length to reduce the need for scrolling.

Inconsistency or poor design will hurt your image and you will lose business. Attention to detail will demonstrate your professionalism and may even compensate for small shortcomings in content.

Be Bold

Use the full power of the web to increase the chances of catching an audience's attention. However, don't overdo it—less is often more! Here are some features that you could use:

  • using dynamic audio-visual effects to present your information more interestingly.
  • reveals. This feature allows only one piece of information at a time to be presented to the audience by using a "grey-out" capability that hides old content and reveals new content in stages.
  • build-ups. Similar to the reveal, this technique adds information in steps.
  • overlays. This often involves the complete image being presented but each overlay highlights or expands the initial image. It can be used to create easy navigation through complicated diagrams. Internal document links also helps to connect pieces of a diagram.
  • variety. While all your slides should have a uniform look and feel, it is boring when every screen is identical. Build in some variety. You could, for example, color-code different sections.
Think About Ease of Use

As you create your presentation, keep the needs of your audience in mind. They're also busy people with little time to spend figuring out what you mean. Therefore, make it as easy as possible for people to access the information they need.

Explain your main point clearly on the first page. You will loose them if they have to search around to figure out what you are trying to tell them. Consider beginning with a summary of the points you are presenting. Provide links that click directly through to the different sections so readers can go straight to areas that interest them. As with any good web site, your presentation should be easy to navigate. It is even better to give readers several ways to access the information they need—for example, place navigation buttons down the side as well as links at the bottom of each page, and cross-reference hyperlinks within the text. If there's a lot of material include a simple search function. If you need to provide a lot of detailed information—such as technical specifications, for example—think about including it as an attachment rather than in the main body of the page. That way people who need additional information can get it while you keep the main pages uncluttered. Also, make it easy for readers to contact you should they have questions or require additional information. Make sure your contact details are clear and are easy to find.

It's a good idea to give your presentation a human touch by including a short bio and photograph of yourself. It personalizes the presentation and makes a connection with the reader. Besides, it feels more honest and real that way.

See what's out there. Keep connected to the latest techniques and creative possibilities by checking in with Internet based shared networks such as slideshare.net.

Anticipate Questions

If you were the reader and didn't know much about the subject but wanted to learn, what questions would you have after reading your presentation? Provide the answers in a separate FAQ (frequently asked questions) section. It will demonstrate that you're ready to help. This section may save you time and money later by addressing some of the more basic and obvious questions right away. You may also want to encourage readers to contact you.

Including an e-mail link or embedded comment form for additional questions or reader feedback is useful, but if you do this, you must make sure you respond promptly or you'll undo all your good will and leave the user with a very poor first impression of you and your organization. It undermines the very trust you are trying to build.

Strive for Audience Involvement

Presenting your information via the web makes it much harder to engage your audience. However, various techniques can be used to keep readers involved.

  • interactivity. This is a natural online asset. Make your presentation as active as possible but not distracting with competing pop-ups or simultaneous video graphics. Consider placing accessible tools on the site, however, such as calculators, quizzes that are scored instantly, images to be selected or even a selection of short video games that demonstrate points you raise. If they're useful, viewers will return or share the link with friends.
  • changing content. Add visibly new content on a regular basis. For example, embed a database of tips, quotes or other features that change daily. Think of ways to get visitors to return by adding new information frequently. This is what is known as creating "sticky content." This does take time, however, but can become a major channel for conveying certain kinds of information to visitors.
  • freebies. If you can supply useful information that can be downloaded in a portable document format (PDF), your presentation can be tagged as a useful site in addition to being informative. By asking for a registration, you can also build a database to keep track of the market you have reached for future contact. That is optional and dependent on the nature of your presentation and what you offer. Templates, printable posters, and articles are popular. You could also provide incentives like an entry to a free prize drawing, if the reader fills out a feedback form.
Keep the Presentation Up-to-Date

It is critical to update your material regularly—otherwise readers will be put off if they return and notice nothing has been changed, or the original date is still on the page. Be vague about revision dates, if possible.

What to AvoidYou Go Overboard

Forget all the bells and whistles. First, your presentation must deliver its objective. Second, interactivity doesn't have to dazzle, it just has to be engaging. Resist the temptation to add tools and gizmos simply because you can.

Your Presentation Isn't Easily Accessible

Don't make the presentation attractive and engaging and then bury it in an obscure spot on your site. Think about whom it is for and deliver it in a way that is easy and convenient to the targeted reader. Besides placing it on the Internet, you can post it on your home page, email it, or make a CD and send it out. The Internet location is cheapest, can be updated regularly, can track visits and can often capture reader email addresses. In that way, it is the strongest option. Emails and other advertising channels could direct people to the site and may actually be more effective in that way because it is easier for a person to reach your presentation from their desktop than to handle physical media that may not be compatible with their available technology.

As always, determine the strategy based on knowing your audience, but remember to keep things as simple as possible and use the most accessible (common) software.

Where to Learn MoreBooks:

Atkinson, Cliff, Beyond Bullet Points: Using Microsoft PowerPoint to Create Presentations That Inform, Motivate, and Inspire. Microsoft Press, 2005.

Wempen, Faithe, Advanced PowerPoint Presentation Techniques. Wiley, 2004.