By Gavin Meikle, Head Of Learning And Founder Of Inter-Activ
Search the Internet for a phrase like “Death by PowerPoint” and you will come across hundreds of articles outlining how this one piece of software is root cause of poor communication across the globe. Yes we have all suffered from an overdose of text heavy, bullet point laden slides but is it really all the fault of the software?
At the risk of being vilified by the anti-PowerPoint lobby I would say that the blame doesn’t all lie at the doors of Microsoft or the other presentation slide creation tools that have emerged over the years. I believe that the responsibility really lies with the slide author. After all, PowerPoint is just a tool. It is the way that it is used, or more often misused that causes all the problems.
I have seen some superb presentations which have used visual aids incredibly effectively to add value to the verbal messages of the presenter. So here are my top tips for ensuring that PowerPoint will work for you rather than against you, should you choose to use it.
1. Ask yourself if you really need to use slides at all. Don’t rely on PowerPoint all the time. Sometimes it’s not the best tool and a simple flip chart or whiteboard will be much better.
2. Don't start with the slides! Developing your visual aids must be the final part of the creative process when writing a presentation. Write your outline first and then think about how you can add impact and clarity by the careful choice of visual aids. Consider what are your key messages and what needs reinforcing or explaining to make it stick?
3. Keep the text to an absolute minimum. Your slides should not be your script. Nobody wants to sit there and watch you read every word off the screen. If your slides make sense without your verbal commentary then one of you is redundant, or should be! Oh and if you do have text, please remember to proof read it and to check for spelling errors.
4. Don’t design your slides as handouts. This is the excuse many presenters give for why they put so much on their slides. I’m not saying you shouldn’t prepare a handout but what I am saying that a printed copy of your slides is a lazy and inefficient approach and almost always leads to dull, text heavy slides that inevitably lead to death by PowerPoint.
5. Aim for one idea per slide. This simple rule of thumb will make your messages much more digestible and has been proven to lead to improved recall and understanding. Remember the maxim “Less is more”.
6. Avoid using clip art! It inevitably looks cheap and cheesy and will undermine your messages. Instead use photographs, diagrams or simple charts. A picture is worth a thousand words or so the old adage goes. The brain processes pictures in a different way to text so choose images that support, amplify and clarify your key verbal messages.
7. Check the readability of your slides in advance. How many times have you sat in a meeting and been unable to read slides and graphs with tiny text. I recommend a minimum of 24 point text to ensure readability at the back of the room. Also avoid clashing font and background colours.
8. Test your presentation on a projector and screen in advance. I’ve seen some slide shows that look great on a laptop screen but look terrible when projected. Projectors often don’t represent colours the same way that your screen does. So double check and if necessary adjust the colours to ensure they look good on screen.
9. Use a simple wireless remote control to advance your slides. This will give you much more flexibility to move around interact with your audience without being tied to the keyboard.
10. Learn how to blank the screen. In PowerPoint you can toggle between your slides and a blank screen at any time simply by pressing “B” on the keyboard. Many presentation remotes also have a button that achieves the same result without you needing to go near the keyboard,
Follow these tips and I guarantee that your presentations will become more effective, your audience will be more engaged and that you will become a better presenter.
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