ALTHOUGH PRESENTERS CAN BE GUILTY OF MANY OFFENSES, THE WORST BY FAR IS INFLICTING ON OTHERS THAT BARBARIC ATROCITY KNOWN AS "DEATH BY POWERPOINT." AS A PROFESSIONAL SPEAKER, I BELIEVE THAT FOLLOWING A FEW GUIDELINES CAN HELP A PRESENTER AVOID BEING ACCUSED OF SUCH A HEINOUS CRIME.
My philosophy is that you, the presenter, are the focus of the presentation — not your electronic slides, your handouts, the projector or the wireless remote. I am not alone in this thinking. Good speakers acknowledge this fact and never stray from its wisdom.
With that in mind, every presentation visual or peripheral technology should serve to supplement the presenter. Microsoft PowerPoint is best used as a tool for helping convey information in a way that is clear, creative and compelling. Electronic slides should not include anything that distracts the audience in any way or detracts from the delivery of the message. Here, then, are a few guidelines for PowerPoint use.
Consider slide use carefully
Four reasons to turn to electronic slides during a presentation are those times you need to:
Present graphical or complex technical information (pictures, charts, tables) that you cannot convey through text alone. For instance, a process-flowchart slide helps people understand visually what you are describing verbally. It fulfills the key purpose for using a visual aid — to help the audience better understand the topic. Make sure, however, that your visual doesn't end up all text; if it does, this information is better spoken.
Emphasize important information. If you're presenting information showing how a service can save a company money, using a slide with text makes sense. It reinforces your statements and people are more likely to remember it.
Vary your manner of conveying information so that the presentation doesn't become monotonous. If you lecture for 90 minutes straight, people will get bored. Use other tools to break the monotony: a flip chart, a video, a handout, an audio clip or a PowerPoint slide.
Appeal to different learning styles. Some like to hear the information and others like to see it. Some in your audience will prefer role-plays or hands-on experiences, and the list goes on. A PowerPoint slide allows you to connect with visual learners, but that's only one mode of learning.
So if you're thinking of using a slideshow, ask yourself if your presentation falls into one of the above categories. If it doesn't, don't use slides.
The problems with slide overload
Of course, there are many things that can go wrong between deciding to use a PowerPoint presentation and creating it. The first is too much information on too many slides. Anything approaching one slide every three minutes is too many. Last week, I did a 45-minute presentation with only four slides.
Another common mistake is using an information-laden slide whose text appears no bigger than a telephone listing. In this case, audience members can't read the slide and soon give up. Before creating the slide, figure out what's necessary and how to present the information succinctly. If the audience can't read the slide, why use it?
Textually speaking too much
Another problem related to too much text on the slide is that the clutter detracts from your message. And if people are busy reading, they aren't listening to what you are saying.
Some presenters use slides that are nothing but text. Remember that if the slide is only text, it's often not necessary. Add some graphics, if possible, to make it more memorable.
Over-animation without explanation
On the other hand, some slides are too glitzy, with wipes going every which way and exploding sound effects startling the audience. As presentation novices soon discover, just because PowerPoint has a zillion animations, you don't have to use them all. Pick a few effects you like and use them judiciously. Overuse is overkill.
Banish slide readers
We've all seen presenters who read slides word for word and continually watch the screen or monitor, rather than make essential eye contact with the audience. Plus, the audience is often reading the slides ahead of the presenter.
By the time you reach the podium, you should know the material so well that your slides should only be a supplement to jog your memory during your presentation.
Remember, the most important objective of your presentation is that the audience remember the key points — not the slideshow.
Terry Wall, president of T.G. Wall Management Consulting in Washington Township, N.J., is a professional speaker and consultant specializing in strategy, leadership and productivity. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.