Getting the Best from Powerpoint

Used well it’s a great tool, so why do so many people use it so badly?

Those of us that have to sit through presentations as part of our job know how soul destroying it can be to have half a dozen dud presentations over the course of a day.

Just ask and I’ll be happy to come along to your team, event or meeting and give you my light hearted Death by Powerpoint presentation with some helpful hints on doing it well. Takes about half an hour.

For now, here are my top ten tips:

1 Think about your audience. Even if you have been asked to do a standard talk, how you deliver it can make a big difference, and so can the size of the audience. If your talk is specific, say a sales pitch, then you should be gearing it solely to what the audience have asked for.

2 Your slides are there to help the presentation: You are the focal point not them. Just a few words on each slide, or a picture, that you can talk around is all you need. Try not to use more that 15 words per slide. And never read from the slide.

3 Use a clear font and one with strong contrast to the background. Not all venues have decent light management and you want people to be able to see what you have got. Don’t use fancy fonts either. Anything that detracts from the message is a waste of time.

4 “I’m afraid this slide is a bit busy” and “I’m not sure of you can see all the detail here” are two phrases you don’t want to use. If you can’t get the information on the slide so that people at the back can read it then use a different format. Graphs can be simplified to just show a trend for example and you can put the detail in the handout.

5 Animation is good, but only in limited amounts: You’re not Pixar Studios. A couple of animations to show a trend or similar is good. Leave it at that.

6 A slide should last you through 2 to 3 minutes of talk at least. Use the slides to build your message to a natural conclusion, and keep a regular pace. Try not to have too many messages either, in a 30 to 40 minute talk you only need around 3 at most.

7 Never walk in front of the slides. If you absolutely have to wander around in front of the screen at some point, say at the end when you are taking questions, either turn the projector off or put something in front of the lens to break the beam.

8 Rehearse your timing and make adjustments. Have some notes on a printed set of the slides so that you always know what’s coming next (we all have those moments when our mind goes blank). You want to use your time in front of these people to get your points over. With, say, 3 key messages over 30 minutes a quick intro and a summing up will take about 6 minutes leaving you 8 minutes for each message.

9 Be prepared to share your slides with a set of notes that covers the key messages that you have spoken over them. Have your contact details on them and tell the audience that they are welcome to contact you.

10 Keep to your allotted time. It looks professional and your audience will be more receptive. If you’ve rehearsed properly you should have no problems.

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