How to not kill people with PowerPoint

13 Jun

PowerPoint presentations are a snoozefest. Most of them are. And if you’ve sat through them (especially during the dreaded post-lunch hour) you know what death by PowerPoint feels like.

But we’ve found in our work that it’s only the bad PowerPoint presentations that have this near-death effect. There can be – surprising but true – good and dare I say it, great, PowerPoint presentations.

So, if you don’t want to go on a PowerPoint killer rampage, here’s my top list of pointers.

1. Write your presentation out in one paragraph.

This is a great way to structure your presentation. Imagine that you’re telling a neighbour about it. Could you summarise it in one minute, or in a paragraph, keeping only the essential points, and leaving out the unnecessary detail? If you can do this as an exercise prior to starting work on the presentation, you can crack a great structure. (I use the Mindmap to structure presentations, but a one-para summary works every time.)

2. Don’t make the presentation a substitute for you.

People want to listen to you. If they wanted to read bullet points on a slide, you could as well have mailed it to them. This is the top way in which people commit PowerPoint harakiri.

In other words, design your slides so that each slide has a few keywords or a photo that will trigger your memory about the point you want to make with that slide. Resist the temptation to put your whole talk on the slide. Creating slides that double up as handouts are a bad, bad idea. If you want to leave something behind, create a separate handout.

3. Make one point per slide.

People need time to wrap their heads around an idea. If that idea is buried in the middle of five others, it might as well not be there.

So if you want to spare yourself the agony of seeing your audience’s eyes glaze over, make one point per slide. Needless to say, that doesn’t mean you have a presentation with 752 slides. The human mind can only take so much at a time.

If there are related points you want to touch upon, put them down in the speaker notes’ section, and use those to guide the flow of your speech.

4. An image makes the point better.

What’s even better than one sentence on a slide? An image! A good photograph can get the message across more efficiently, and without your audience falling asleep.

5. Stay away from Clipart and cutesy fonts.

When you don’t have good photographs, it’s tempting to resort to Clipart (you know, those cute sketches that come with PowerPoint). But don’t. A presentation with Clipart is not professional.

And yes, no cutesy fonts like Comic sans or Handwriting.

6. Rehearse.

I can’t emphasise this enough. You should know what your talking points are on every slide. So try a rehearsal with a colleague. That way, you will know which points to stress on, which slide to linger on, and which slide to quickly pass by.

7. Making a presentation is a two way street.

Keep your eyes on the audience, and watch their body language. Did the point you just made get them excited? Maybe you should spend a little more time on it. Are they beginning to text their friends and relatives? Maybe it’s time you moved on. Too many of us are so wrapped up in delivering the presentation, that we forget who the presentation is about: the person who’s listening.

8. Be nervous.

Yes, you read that right. Being nervous is great because it means you will take the time to prepare. Too many careless presentations are made because the presenter wasn’t nervous enough to invest the time in getting it right. If you’re nervous before, you will prepare well; and if you prepare well, you will not be nervous on the big day.

qrst, the Barapani newsletter

From qrst, the Barapani newsletter, June 2013

What are your tricks for getting a presentation right? Or, what are the things that bother you the most about presentations? Write in to us, and there’s a surprise in store for the best answer.


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