The magic touch for success

Build flexible presentations and let your audience choose their adventure

Have you ever been in a situation where you realise you were not informed properly about your audience? Or that, surprise, surprise, the event organiser forgot to tell you that they changed their schedule because they are running late? That’s when you should build more flexible presentations and let your audience choose their adventure!

What are flexible and interactive presentations?

Having the ability to customise your talk to your audience’s needs, or just be able to quickly skip some content because you are short on time, can make a huge difference on how your audience will rate your performance. But achieving such a goal does depend on one very important step: planning your content. To successfully craft flexible and interactive presentations, you need to structure your content, so it is grouped in small modules, or sections.

As an example, here is a screenshot from my training material that was built in 2006 and adapted through the years. I have 8 content sections with text labels that allow me to simply click to access the first slide of the section. From there I can deliver the content in a linear fashion, or I also have the leisure to skip more content by choosing one of the image thumbnails in the bottom rectangle.

Slide structured for flexible training

That type of content saved the day with one group I trained a long time ago! About 10 years ago, the owner of a communication and design agency wanted me to train their graphic designers on how to build better presentations for their clients. Before even getting there, I knew that part of my content would be discussed very briefly. But when I got there and greeted the team after I was all setup, I realised very few designers really wanted to be sitting in training. They were probably thinking that I could not bring anything new since, after all, they were graphic designers. I started the training normally, already in slideshow view, so they would see me go through a few topics. When I figured I would lose their attention if I kept going on I escaped the slideshow, so they would realise everything I was showing them was built just in PowerPoint. To this date, I don’t remember ever seeing people’s attention switch so quickly! After that little trick, we were able to go back to my normal training and address any other types of questions they had.

What functionalities are used to build flexible and interactive content?

Many people don’t realise that PowerPoint has had some great functions built in since… Office97! Granted, at the time those neat functionalities were hidden way down in sub-menus, making it difficult to find them. With the Office Suite evolution though, they are now more visible and not that difficult to use.

To build more flexible content, here 4 functionalities you can use:

  1. Hyperlinks
    For example, you might want to have extra information ready for a set of data on your chart. In such a case, make sure you have the extra slide ready, then click on the bar you want to become “clickable”, then Insert | Link. The Insert Hyperlink window allows to chose from various target. In this example, you would choose the “Place in This Document” button on the left, then slide number 2, then click OK. To make sure you show slide #2 only when you need it, hide it by right-clicking the thumbnail on the left, then click Hide. PowerPoint interface showing hyperlinking function
  2. Action buttons
    When you have reached your extra information slide, you need a way to come back to your original slide. That’s when Action Buttons come into play. In the Insert tab, click on the Shapes button: you will find a nice selection at the bottom, but for our actual need, select the one that looks like a Return arrow and draw it on your slide. The Action Settings window will automatically open with the Last Slide Viewed option selected, so the only thing left to do is click OK. As you can probably realise, hyperlinks and action buttons are very powerful when used together. But you do have to PLAN your content thoroughly. Think about what sections you will have and what extra data or content might be shown only as needed BEFORE you start designing your presentation; it will save you tons of time! PowerPoint interface showing how to access action buttons and action settings window.
  3. Custom shows
    If you happen to have a set of extra slides, you can save yourself some time by using the Custom Shows feature with an hyperlinked object. In the Slide Show tab, click the Custom Slide Show button, then the New… button in the Custom Shows window.In the Define Custom Show window, you can change the generic name, then click on the check boxes of the slides you want grouped together. In our example, slides #3, #4 and #5 where checked, then the Add button in the middle to confirm them in the Custom Show. Last thing to do is click OK.

    PowerPoint interface showing how to create a custom show.

    The only step left is to select the object that will be used to hyperlink the content and repeat steps from the Hyperlinks example above. This time, the Insert Hyperlink window will have a new section in the list of places in the document: Custom Shows. When you click on it, you will see a preview of the first slide. The very important detail you don’t want to miss is the Show and return check box. By doing so, when you have reached the end of the custom show slides, you will automatically return on the slide you were before – no return button required!

    PowerPoint interface showing how to link to a custom show


  4. Zoom (for O365 users only, or upcoming Office 2019)
    All the previous features are what users with Office 2016 and previous versions will have to use to build flexibility and interactivity in their presentations. But for O365 subscribers, or users that will migrate to the upcoming Office 2019 by the end of this year, you have access to an awesome feature called Zoom that does mostly the same thing in just a few clicks!Using my same example slides, you’ll be able to see how quickly this can be achieved. In the Insert tab, click on the Zoom button to see the list of zooms you can use. If you already use sections in your presentation file, you could create a Section Zoom with them. As for the Slide Zoom, it allows to accomplish something similar to the hyperlink & action button explanations above.

    Let’s create a Summary Zoom. You will get the Insert Summary Zoom window, allowing you to choose the slide at the beginning of a section (one or more slides). Click Insert button.

    PowerPoint interface showing the Summary Zoom feature.

    PowerPoint creates for you a brand-new cover slide that contains an hyperlinked thumbnail of each section. As you can also see in the slide pane on the left, sections have automatically been created for you. When you go into slide show mode, you only need to click on section thumbnails in the sequence you want to show them, and you get back to your summary automatically at the end of the section. As you can see, a lot of the “clicking work” is taken care of automatically with Zoom.

    PowerPoint interfce showing a Summary Zoom

Why would you want to build flexible and interactive content?

Being able to adapt to the audience’s needs is VERY powerful. Just imagine how YOU feel when someone is making their content & story relevant to your needs. People remember more and have the feeling that their time listening to the presentation was well spent.

Building flexible and interactive content also makes you look like you are on top of your game, not only by adapting the content, but also by adapting when you are running out of time or your allotted time was reduced. Speeding through dozens of slides in a linear fashion because you are out of time is useless and frustrating. Might as well do it gracefully by jumping to your conclusion slides right away to conclude.

Packaging your whole content in one big and well structured interactive presentation file can save you a lot of time & money. What if I told you that my training content has been structured the same way for the past 10 years? I did update my content many times, changed the slide aspect ratio and even the colour scheme. But the structure remained the same, allowing me to be ready at a moment’s notice to deliver relevant sections of it to new audiences. Not having to redo separate presentation files on an ongoing basis means saving a lot of design time & money.

Who can use flexible and interactive presentations?

Because of my training content example, you are probably thinking that only trainers will benefit from this, right? Wrong! Here are a few examples of clients I have worked with that embraced that type of presentation content:

  • Sales teams: they had to present to very busy potential clients in hospitals. Building an interactive and flexible sales presentation meant that they could answer questions and show content in a few clicks. They always had extra content available if needed.BENEFIT: they increased their market shares and got people talking about how efficient they were.
  • Trade shows: when reps are busy talking to people, what better way to keep new visitors in your booth than to have them browse products, company info or successful projects on a screen!BENEFIT: have attractive visuals that keep visitors longer in your booth.
  • Expert speakers: Speakers can benefit from packaging their content in a more flexible and interactive way. The first one being able to cut down on their time on the fly. I’m quite sure that you have heard “You will have to cut down 15 minutes of your talk because we are running late” before! But having access to more content than what you were asked to deliver can also have another benefit: you can adapt better to the audience if you find that not everything you planned is relevant to them.BENEFIT: you are perceived as a more knowledgeable and valuable speaker that can adapt to his/her audience.

Crafting more flexible and interactive presentations goes way beyond just having a good story. It makes your talk more relevant and valuable to your audience because you can adapt to their needs. Yes, it takes extra planning. Yes, it will take extra time when you first structure and develop your content, but you will save time if you present on a regular basis. But you know what? If you aspire at becoming an excellent speaker, you will need to put that extra work to stand out from all the good speakers we can find in the world.

If you need help figuring out how to put more flexibility in your presentations, contact us so we can set a complimentary 30-minute discovery call.

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Picture of Chantal Bossé
Chantal Bossé
Chantal Bossé est auteure, blogueuse, formatrice et spécialiste en présentations et communications visuelles depuis plus de 20 ans.Depuis 2013, elle est l’une des 13 personnes en Amérique du Nord à avoir reçu la reconnaissance Microsoft® PowerPoint MVP (Most Valuable Professional) dont la première et seule femme francophone.