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What Can Presenters Learn from TV Commercials?

Most of us watch television and claim to ignore the commercials. Yet even small companies spend a great deal on TV commercials for one reason: they work. Large national or global companies spend an average of $350-thousand dollars to produce elaborate videos with sophisticated special effects. However, small companies in local markets with much smaller budgets still create effective commercials by following some of the same rules on a much smaller scale.

Online presentation creators can learn a great deal from small-scale commercials that produce substantial financial returns. Whether we present through live webinars or on-demand website presentations, TV commercials offer valuable lessons.

Lesson number one: Keep it simple. Successful commercials—even infomercials—seldom introduce multiple ideas. Whether they are promoting a restaurant, a tax prep service or a tire store they state their basic message in as few words as possible and then offer several proof statements to support it. Invariably they end with a call to action like, “call now”, or “stop in and talk to us”. They don’t make the fatal mistake of many PowerPoint presenters who try to tell a complex story by including a deluge of details.

Lesson number two: Use multi-media to deliver ideas. Some viewers absorb information from a narrator’s voice. Many people need to see the same words written onscreen. Still others relate only to pictures. Most effective commercials use all of these, along with graphics because each of these media forms strengthens understanding of all of the others. Most commercials also use background music, because the human brain retains more information, both consciously and subconsciously, with musical accompaniment.

Lesson number three: keep some form of motion on the screen. Low-budget commercials can seldom afford cartoon-style animations, but they continually change parts of the viewer screen by fade-in or fly-in of new pictures, new text, or new graphics. These changes keep viewers focused.

Online presenters can follow all of these rules with effective use of PowerPoint. That usually means that we need to eliminate some of the typical parts of PowerPoint presentations, especially the ones that bore audiences. Smart commercial creators never use screens full of static text bullets. When they use text it fades in or flies in to support the narrator’s message and disappears in a few seconds. Good commercials never dwell on a single picture, but constantly change to multiple views. Graphs and charts are used in their simplest forms and seldom dwell onscreen for more than a few seconds. If charts need to make more than one statement, they appear in segments as animations.

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