Saved from PowerPoint Death Using 6 “Pay Attention” Tips
April is tech month at the IWJ. As with most things in life, tech can be a good thing or a … less-than-good thing. If I say “good tech” you might think of things that make you happy–your sharp new iPad, the smartphone you wake up next to in bed each morning, or your hot-pink iPod you simply can’t go jogging without. When I say “less-than- good tech?” There’s a good chance you’re gonna say PowerPoint. How many hours have you spent enduring deathly boring PowerPoint presentations? Even scrubbing your bathroom floor seemed an attractive option? Not to bash PowerPoint or its slideware cousins—Prezi and Keynote, I’d like to suggest that it’s not PowerPoint itself that’s the culprit—it’s us! More specifically, it’s the way we use and interact with PowerPoint. PowerPoint itself isn’t going to stand up and entertain, educate or inspire us—that’s the speaker’s job. There may be hope for those meetings after all, if we can figure out how to co-exist peacefully with our slideware. So here are a few tips to help breathe life into presentations using slideware. No technical tips because they get outdated too quickly—just basic design and presentation principles that apply to any program you might work with.
Design Tips for PowerPoint:
- Make sure you actually NEED slides. The mere fact most of your co-workers use PowerPoint when they present isn’t a good enough reason for you to use it. Ask yourself, “is there anything I’m trying to communicate that I can’t just say….Will my slides add something I can’t communicate with words?” Sometimes all that’s called for is your words. Sometimes an old-fashioned handout that your audience can take away is the best option. Save the slides for when they’re the best option.
- Keep the number of slides to a minimum. You don’t need a slide for every point you make. In fact, you don’t want slides for every point. If your slides contain all your content, you may as well go off and get a pedicure while your audience watches the show. Use slides only when and where they’re needed to supplement your words—to project a photo of a child you’re telling a story about, to offer a flow chart that makes production details clear, or to share a chart that helps your audience process a complex set of statistics.
- Go minimal on each individual slide. Each slide only needs to contain what you can’t say—remember its role is to complement your words, not to compete with them. An image—all by itself—is often all you need. Maybe a couple key words. A text heavy slide looks bad and is hard to read. Even worse, your audience will concentrate on reading the slides and will stop listening to you. If you’ve ever caught yourself thinking, “couldn’t the speaker just be quiet so I could read the slides!?” you’ll know what I mean.
- Resist the bells and whistles. By this point we’ve all seen the fancy features that come along with slideware—text that slides in, scrambles and spins, bounces, then finally falls into place twelve long seconds later. No one will be impressed by your PowerPoint superpowers—instead they may see you as an amateur who doesn’t realize those features are now over ten years old!
- Don’t use the templates that scream, “hi, I’m a PowerPoint default setting!” While you don’t need to overload with fancy tricks, you also don’t want to use the first slide templates you see. There’s a local TV commercial that makes even my nine-year-old son yell out “PowerPoint slide!” every time it airs because it so obviously uses the program’s default colors and bullet style. If you readily recognize a theme because you’ve seen people use it in a variety of settings, you might want to keep looking. Same thing with bullets—PowerPoint still inserts bullets for you automatically, but you only use bullets if you have a list of items on one slide. (Which means you’ll want to re-read tip number 3…).
- Keep the screen blank when you’re not actively referring to a slide. Otherwise we keep looking at whatever is still on the screen, and we’ll only half- listen to your new point. To do this, you can insert a blank slide between others as you prepare your slides, or in PowerPoint by hitting the “B” key (“B” stands for “blank”). Other programs may have alternate ways to create a blank screen.
Okay, that’s enough to get you creating slides that will partner nicely with your verbal presentation. But there still are a few things you want to keep in mind as a speaker. Tomorrow, same time, will be 4 Tips Every Good Presenter Knows