Using a PowerPoint presentation effectively is one of the things many business people just don’t do well.
How many presentations have you sat through where the presenter shows slides with 20 bullet points in 8-point type – and then proceeds to read each one out loud? Or slides with animated graphics, builds and transitions all over the place that you don’t know where to look?
My current favourite: over-zealous use of the laser pointer, one that has fancy symbols instead of the solid red dot. I sat through such a presentation last week. All I really remember about it is the laser pointer. Nice dollar symbol! Well, it was a presentation on a financial topic 🙂
That presenter would find Cliff Atkinson’s Beyond Bullets blog extremely helpful (welcome statement: “If you’re looking for new ways to use media to help you relate better to other people, you’re in the right place!”). A great place for valuable advice and tips on how to be effective with presentations using PowerPoint.
Cliff is busy writing a book at the moment on – you guessed it – using PowerPoint, to be published in February 2005 by Microsoft Press.
While we wait for the book, here’s a useful guide from Microsoft to using PowerPoint effectively. Aimed at IT professionals, it’s actually valid information for anyone who wants to use a PPT when making a presentation.
Some Common Mistakes
Experts say that they repeatedly see a few main errors in the use of PowerPoint. First is the overuse of effects and graphic elements. Many inexperienced presenters think that flying sentences and flashing slides emphasize their points, but experts agree that such things are actually more likely to distract. Simple designs, consistent fonts, minimal animations, and seamless transitions give your presentation a professional look and help the audience focus on the substance, not the flash.
Information overload is another error that shows up constantly. Intricate graphics that fill the slide with exploding forms and build on each other as you’re presenting confuse rather than inform. When slides have so much text that they look like contracts rather than highlights, they contain more data than an audience can possibly absorb and divert attention from the presenter.
- Make a distinction between presenting information and influencing decisions. Make sure that, when you’re simply presenting information, your presentation is clear, concise, and neutral. When you’re trying to influence a decision, make sure that your material is organized in a way that leads your audience to the conclusion you desire.
- Keep it simple. Use the Coherence Principle to remind you that jamming every fact you can find into a presentation does not make it more persuasive and can actually dilute and subvert your message.
- Use graphics and text together to make your point. This doesn’t mean that simply grabbing any old clip art and sticking it on your slide improves your presentation. In fact, using well-worn clip art that isn’t pertinent to your point can send the message that you didn’t care enough about the audience to find the right picture to illustrate your ideas.
- Use informal language. Stilted technical language that forces audiences to interpret and analyze your meaning distracts from your impact. You’ll be less likely to gain the audience’s trust and confidence. Rather than simply reading from your slides, use them as the background to a conversation with your audience.
- Less is more. Less text makes your point more sharply. Less animation and fewer transitions keep your audience’s attention focused on the substance so that when you do use animation appropriately to accentuate important points, the points are actually emphasized rather than lost in the flash.
Don’t allow the ease of use of PowerPoint to seduce you into thinking that its bells and whistles can make up for lack of substance or organization. As with any communication task, the keys to presenting with impact are knowing the audience and your own objectives and presenting your ideas clearly and concisely.