At the start of the year we see many lists of predictions, trends, and resolutions for the upcoming year. In this article I want to share five steps you can take right away to improve your presentations this year. You don’t need to be a designer or an artist. Anyone can follow these five steps.

1. Start your presentation with planning

Presenters tell me they are so busy they don’t have time to plan their presentation, they need to get going on it. So they grab a few slides from this deck, a few from that one, and that really good slide their colleague used last week. And they hope it comes together into a clear message that executives will understand and act on. Unfortunately, it rarely turns out well. Use the GPS approach from my book GPS for Presentations to plan your message before you think about any slides.

2. Write a headline for each slide

What should you write at the top of the slide, in that box that says “Click to add title”? Not a title, but a headline. A headline is a summary of the key message you want the audience to understand from this slide. It forces you to be clear on that message and restricts you to one message per slide. A headline also makes it easier for you as the presenter because you know the one message you need to get across, then you can move on to the next slide. Writing headlines instead of titles is always one of the most popular ideas with the participants in my workshops.

3. Plan your slides on paper first

Slide software, whether it is PowerPoint or one of the many other options out there, will not help you decide on what will be effective in communicating your message. It is just a tool to help create the visual. You need to decide what visual will be best at helping the audience grasp your message. The software actually hinders your thought process by suggesting you “Click to add text”. Sketch out your slides on paper first. Do the thinking part away from the software. Then create what you have planned in the software.

4. Be comfortable with nothing on the screen sometimes

Just because you are using slides doesn’t mean you must always have a slide on the screen. Using a black slide or blanking the screen can be a powerful technique. When there is nothing on the screen, where does the audience focus? On you, the presenter. Now you can deliver a powerful point without any other visual distraction. I wrote this article about three times you should blank the screen.

5. Become more efficient at using PowerPoint

Most people are self-taught users of PowerPoint. We may have had a course in school, maybe an online course at university or when we started our job, and likely picked up a lot of what we use from others at work who were kind enough to answer our questions. When I do the hands-on portion of my workshops, people are surprised at how much quicker they could have been creating slides if they just knew some of the tips I show them. Make 2015 the year you get more efficient at using PowerPoint. I have more than 30 tutorials here for free, I have advanced tutorials for sale here, and Indezine has great tutorials for all the basics here.

My surveys tell me that presentations are becoming more common as the key way information gets shared in organizations. Make 2015 the year you create more effective presentations with these five steps. If you want your whole group to learn how to create presentations that have a clear message, focused content, and effective visuals, check out my customized workshops.