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Monday, October 1, 2007

All Kinds of Advice on What Not to Do With PowerPoint

I’ve seen a variety of presenters at conferences – both good (a few) and bad (mostly). Based on what most bad presenters do, here's a variety of (apparently) unconventional pieces of advice that can lead to dramatic improvements:

  1. Use fewer words on slides. Don’t show every word you plan to say; it’s not that effective of a crutch. Fewer words (or only images) help maintain audience attention & cover your flubs because the audience can’t compare what you’re saying to everything on the screen.

    Ideally, you've never had to say during a presentation - “I know this is tough to read, but I think you’ll get the point” because if you have, that means even you realize your SLIDE DOESN’T WORK!!! You need to fix it or get rid of it and not subject the audience to your LAZINESS!!! Sorry about the outburst, but if you choose to fix the slide, here are three possible approaches:

    * Prioritize the material on the slide - use the forced choice technique approach from a previous post to narrow the content.

    * Help the audience focus – if it’s an overly detailed chart or spreadsheet, consider using custom animation to circle the area that you’re addressing or a picture insert to enlarge what you’re referencing, breaking it up into multiple slides that are legible, or developing a graphic with only the point(s) you’re making.

    * Do something completely different – think hard about whether there’s a story, anecdote, or image you could use to make your point and (I realize this is radical) completely eliminate the detailed slide.

    I know this may not make sense to a bad presenter, because the audience REALLY needs to see everything on the slide to get the point. But on behalf of all audience members, we can’t SEE what’s on the slide anyway; it might as well be blank. So pick a course of action (and reach out to somebody for help if you’re struggling with points 2 or 3), and get back to us when you’ve fixed your slides!

  2. Practice less – and listen more. Record your presentation and listen to it. Hear what isn’t working, and fix it before you present. Reading your presentation over and over without listening to it causes you to miss obvious gaffes that listeners will readily hear.

  3. Cut back on multimedia & animation. Using various sounds, moving images, and videos won’t fix a poor presenter. It just puts more pressure on you to hit cues - the last thing you should have to be thinking about while presenting.

  4. Have fun – but if you’re scared or not funny, don’t throw one joke in to lighten things up. One funny comment reminds the audience how unamusing the rest of it is. A better strategy: smile throughout and quit trying to be funny if you aren’t in real life. Audiences are more forgiving of an underdog who looks genuine and friendly than somebody who is trying to be slick but isn’t.

And if you're still struggling with whether you have too much content on your slides, here are two quick checks to keep yourself honest on the detail level and clarity of your slides:

Check #1 – Print out your “finished” PowerPoint presentation with 16 (or at least 9) slides on the page (you can usually do this in the Printer Setup dialog – not directly in PowerPoint). At that resolution, see if you can read what’s on EVERY slide without squinting. If you can, you’re audience will be able to read it as well. If you can’t, neither will your audience, so go back to yesterday’s post and start again.

Check #2 – Cover the headline on each slide and ask, “Can the audience get my point from the slide’s content?” Next, cover up the content and ask, “Can the audience get my point from the headline?” Then determine, “Is the point consistent for both the headline and the content?” The right answer to all these questions is “Yes,” if you’re slide is a good one. If not, you’ve got some more work to do.

An additional presentation tip (and for everyday business speak) is to avoid business cliches. A report from Dow Jones points to its review of the most overused phrases by continent. There are interesting similarities among the cliches used around the world, and it's well worth checking out the pdf. My thought? At the end of the day...go home, spend time with your family, say your prayers, and go to bed!

Simply using the principles outlined above will demonstrate to your audience that you’re thinking about them and are making strides to deliver value to them with your content. Many of the tips will help save prep time that you can use to ensure you know the content and can talk about it conversationally, even without PowerPoint. If you can do that, you’ll deliver a lot better presentation!

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