Saturday, March 6, 2010

Effective Slides in Presentations, or Why PowerPoint doesn't suck

It's become fashionable to diss PowerPoint. The article that I referenced in my last blog said this, for intance:

"Over-reliance on PowerPoint slides has brought more presentations to its knees than a ring full of World Wide Federation wrestlers. Unless you are trying to illustrate a very complex technical idea, PowerPoint slides are a distraction...You don't need PowerPoint to tell a story well." (hyphen added)

I'd be the first to admit that bad PowerPoint slides have damaged many presentations. However, so have not being prepared, talking about things that don't matter to the audience, speaking into the podium rather than with the audience, and many other things. I'd be willing to admit that bad PowerPoint can damage a good presentation but it certainly can't do nearly as much damage as, for instance, not speaking loud enough.

About the worst that can be said about PowerPoint is that too much time spent preparing your slides instead of preparing your  presentation could kill a presentation--but that's not quite the same thing as saying that 'bad PowerPoint' kills a presentation". It's the difference between saying that "Money is the root of all evil" and "The love of money is the root of all evil" (and, by the way, the Bible says the second one, not the first).

You'll notice that the article I quoted talks about "over reliance on PowerPoint" which is a nice change from the usual knocks on PowerPoint. However, that author then goes on to say that PowerPoint slides are "a distraction" and that "you don't need PowerPoint."

Yes, you do.

I'm preparing a proposal for a client that includes a "creating effective PowerPoint" module so I've been codifying what would constitute 'effective PowerPoint'. I've decided that, as a minimum, you need PowerPoint for three things:
  • As your speaking notes. The surest way to ensure that you don't commit the real sins of speaking into the podium or reading what you've written is to not write your presentation down. Instead, use PowerPoint as your speaker notes--let your slides can prompt you as to what to say next. At the very least, you and your audience will be glancing at the same thing.
  • To expose your presentation's structure to your audience. Bring up a slide at the start of the presentation that lists tells your audience what you will be talking about; repeat that slide each time you change topics. The result: your audience will know where you are, where you're going, and be able to estimate how long it will take to get there.
  • As a visual aid. PowerPoint lets you do most of the things that you can't do with just words: Present graphics, show processes through animation, and so.
If those are the three things that your PowerPoint slides can do for you then these are the rules for creating PowerPoint slides that will meet those goals:
  • Build a set of structure slides. The first structure slide is your title slide--the first thing that your audience sees. Tell the audience what you're talking about. The second slide should either tell the audience what benefit they will get from your presentation or provide an opportunity for you to ask your audience to tell you what they want. The next slide lists your topics in the order they will appear. Subsequent structure slides repeat that list, highlighting the topic you're about to talk about.
  • Insert your speaker notes in between your structure slides. Create a set of slides consisting of keywords or phrases that will remind you of what you want to say. At its simplest, this means you'll have slides with between one and four bullet points with each bullet point one to six words in length. You can get these slides to do double duty: Since your audience will also be seeing these slides, include key words or concepts that you want your audience to remember on these slides.
  • Review your speaker notes and look for opportunities to replace your words with graphics. Is there something that would help readers "see" what you mean? A graphic, a chart, a picture, an animation, a video? All of these can be embedded in a PowerPoint slide. A good graphic can often do double duty: it's not only something to show to your audience, it can also act as your speaker notes to remind you of what you wanted to say.
The result is a presentation that will guide you through what you want to do without providing enough words to lure you into reading text to your audience. Do this, along with the stuff that I covered in my last blog, and you'll give a heck of a presentation

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