Ten power points to powerful Powerpoints

Jim Owens PMP

From home businesses to corporate boardrooms, from kindergartens to lecture theatres, from "My holiday" shows to "World Domination" marketing strategies, to the unfolding of the secrets of the entire universe; they all have one thing in common -- the ubiquitous Microsoft PowerPoint slide presentation.
PowerPoint is the modern-day replacement for the overhead transparency projector and of course for the much earlier flickering "magic lanterns" that lit up otherwise dreary presentations in dimly lit halls around the world for hundreds of years, bringing gasps of excitement and amazement from mesmerised audiences as they were transported by incredible scenes from exotic locations, terrifying battles and improbable creatures.

"Face to face" communication is one of the most powerful methods at our disposal; because a large part of the message that we communicate is nonverbal, i.e. by body language, voice tones and so on. Studies indicate that communication is 55% nonverbal, 38% Tone and inflection of voice, and just a mere 7% is from our actual words!
Yet despite our ability to multiply the effectiveness of our words by around 1,400%, just by delivering them personally, we often hide behind a slide show, rather than using the slide show to support our personal presentation. So instead of us boosting and enhancing our message, we more often than not end up as a projectionist and narrator behind a magic lantern show.
When did you last attend a presentation that didn't have a PowerPoint presentation? But when was the last time that you realised that the PowerPoint itself added little to the speaker, or even proved a distraction?
When was that last time that you gave a presentation that brought gasps of excitement and amazement from a mesmerised audience?
Would you like to know how you can dramatically improve your PowerPoint show? Of course you would! So read on, and I will tell you ten simple secrets Power Points PowerPoints.

With the proliferation of desktop computers and readily available software, has come a flood of people who believe that a great presentation is a simple matter. This is partially true, because even young grade school children are often expected to be able to produce simple presentation for homework assignments. The software comes with a wealth of graphics, photos, videos, backgrounds and styles, music and sound effects, as well as a plethora of wonderful text effects and slide transitions. But the availability of all these wonderful effects at your fingertips often leads to the downfall of an otherwise excellent message.
Compare it to making a meal. What if you were to get a big pot and add a bit of every type of food, herb, spice and sauce that you have, then you bake, boil, fry and steam it. I think I went to a restaurant ONCE that did that. But you get the picture! That's the same sort of meal that most amateur (and other) presenters make of their PowerPoints; they try to use a little of everything.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that PowerPoint is a poor medium, or that it always detracts from a presenter. What I AM saying is that it is very much easier to produce a bad show, than a good one.

On the plus side, having important information for your audience or students, displayed on a screen can be great as a focusing tool. And all the words are spelt correctly (you did do a spell check, didn't you). This is especially important in a presentation that contains words in a different language or technical or medical terms, and so on.
If you intend handing out or emailing copies of your presentation to your audience, then they can relax and not waste time writing notes. But will that encourage your audience to become lazy and just watch the show passively?
How you can liven up any PowerPoint presentation (and your audience), and really add to your message?


1. Keep it Uniform.
Having a style that changes from one slide to the next can be upsetting, so where possible, choose a single background and style to use for every slide. This is easy; you just select the Slide Master, and apply one of the supplied styles. This will give the same look and feel to your entire show, including background, text and bullet styles, sizes and colours.
Remember to choose a style that is easy on the eye and does not overpower the text, with bold colours and many graphic features.

2. Keep it Simple
Have a minimal number of points and words on each slide. If everything is crammed into your slides then your audience will just get tired of trying to read huge amounts of information, and in fact may find the presenter merely a distraction.
If you are going to give the slides out, and you need to have a lot of information, then keep the slides simple and add the extra information to the Notes pages.
This is an important one -- don't use special effects, slide transitions or sounds, unless they genuinely ADD to the presentation. More times than not, they are just an annoyance. Who really wants to see phrases slowly spin into place, or words appear letter by letter, accompanied by typewriter sounds or gunshots? There are rare occasions were these effects have a place, but usually they simply scream "Amateur!"

3. Not Everyone Has Perfect Vision
Almost everyone has some sort of vision problem, and if you do dot allow for this, then you will loose a percentage of your audience. A uniform look and feel to the slides is a good start, but remember to choose a good combination of colours that your audience will like (including those people that might have colour blindness).
And by having few point and few words on each slide, then the words can be comfortably large. I have been to so many presentations where the presenter constantly apologised for slides covered in microscopic text and diagrams. Here's a tip, don't apologise - fix the problem, and you will have a happier audience.

4. Be Interactive.
Most people are used to passive entertainment. They watch TV, listen to music and so on, but they don't have to do anything. Consequently they forget much of what they watch. Generally the TV can't ask questions, or hear responses. But just think of "reality" TV shows, like "Big Brother" or "Greatest Idol" and so on. These programmes are very popular, because there IS a degree of interaction with the audience.
When you are giving a presentation, encourage active learning by asking and answering questions. Ask questions on what they have just learned from earlier parts of the presentation (or from previous presentations, if part of a series in a school or university).
And when people respond, be gentle with incorrect answers, otherwise your audience may become afraid to contribute. Consider forming break-out groups that can discuss a question, then they can choose a spokesperson to provide feedback.
And don't answer all the questions from the audience by yourself, ask if anyone else in the audience can answer -- all these things will get people involved in your presentation and they will enjoy it more and learn more.

5. A Three-Act Drama
You can really improve your presentation by breaking it up. People do not have a long attention span, and so if you try to deliver your message in one big piece, it can be hard to swallow.
As a minimum, divide it in three parts. This can be done in different ways. For example, if it is essentially one message that divide it into -- a. Introduction, b. Body of Message, and c. epilogue (or -- tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them your message, then tell them what you told them).
Or you could try to organise your points into three (or more) distinct groups, and have a short break after each group, where you can ask questions.
Research shows that people retain most information from the start and end of a presentation, so breaking the presentation up, increasing the numbers of "starts" and "ends" in your presentation, and subsequently, more is retained by your audience.

6. Don't Be Too Predicable
The foundation of humour is unpredictability. The unexpected can keep people involved. It can be as simple as displaying a blank slide and then asking questions, or sometime displaying a slide out of sequence, or displaying an unexpected slide.
More people fall asleep driving on a freeway at night, than on little winding roads. The monotony of the predicable long straight road can be mind-numbing, but if the road keeps changing direction, width, speed restriction and obstacles, then drivers are much more likely to remain alert.
And never say, "We will soon be finished" because people switch off mentally from that point onwards.

7. Find Out What They Learned
When you sum up at the end, have a set of questions that will help you determine what your audience learned form your presentation. This will help reinforce their learning, and enable you to see gaps in their understanding that you can fill.
Make sure that you choose different people to answer, because you want to know what your whole audience or class learned -- not just one person.
Don't make the questions too difficult or nobody will answer, and as always, be gentle with wrong answers, and don't immediately provide a correct answer yourself -- you already know that you know the answers -- keep it interactive by letting others answer for you. This way you are taking the role of a facilitator and the audience or class is doing the work.

8. Avoid Clichés Like The Plague
There are so many VERY overused phrases in every profession, organisation, or learning establishment. The problem of using these phrases -- however good they are -- is that the audience has probably heard them many times before too, and so switch off mentally when they start to hear them again.
For example as soon as I hear, "Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a day, but teach a man to fish…" I fall asleep, in fact I miss much of the message, not just the end of the cliché. Think of a new way to say the same thing.

9. A Funny Thing Happened…
The TASTEFUL use of humour can really add to a presentation. Everyone enjoys a laugh and your audience will enjoy both your presentation, and you (as presenter) if you can make them laugh a few times, especially of the first laugh comes within the first one or two minutes.
Research also shows us that generally people learn better and retain more of what they learn if they are happy as they learned it.
But keep it in balance, you are not a comedian, you are a presenter who uses a little comedy. And remember that your humour MUST be appropriate and not offensive to others, or you will lose all your good work during the presentation (and maybe lose your job too).
It you have and doubt about the suitability of a joke -- don't use it.

10. Look at Me, Look at Me!
We have seen before that our words convey just 7% of our message. So the PowerPoint slides are just a small portion of the message. It is important to avoid just reading out the slides. Your audience call already do that themselves, and much faster than you can. You want to discuss and explain the slides, or else you become unnecessary.

The use of VERY FEW pictures and sounds can help, make sure that they add to the presentation, are resized correctly, and you have permission to use the picture.

But essentially YOU are the presentation, you need to be out in front, using all that wonderful body language and voice tones and inflections, and keeping everything interactive with your audience. The PowerPoint is just the backdrop to the main performance.
About the Author
©2006 All rights reserved
Jim Owens PMP is a career Project Manager, Presenter and PMP Instructor. Director of Certification with PMI W Australia, Columnist with www.PMHub.net and Information Age Magazine. Visit Jim at The Home of Project Management. Read Jim's poetry at: www.MyLoveIsLike.com

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