Let’s say you’re giving a presentation at a conference or a staff meeting; you’re working in two media: audio and video. If it’s just you and a podium, the audio is all that matters—at best the video (you standing at the podium) should fade into the background. But if you’ve got a projector at your disposal, you can use PowerPoint. And I’m here to tell you: you should.
Why You Should Use PowerPoint
You should use PowerPoint when you can because otherwise you might just as well ask people to listen to you with their eyes closed. PowerPoint opens up a visual communications channel and deepens the presentation experience. But only if you understand how to use it. If you don’t use it well, it can compromise the presentation irrevocably. Examples abound (and abound).
Beware The Smeagol Effect!
I’m going to backpedal only a little bit and say that there is a danger to PowerPoint that I call “The Smeagol Effect:” When some people create a PowerPoint presentation, they become beholden to it. They can’t abandon it, even when it becomes clear they should—for example, when a dialogue begins to emerge between presenter and audience that obviates the presentation. Or when time begins to run out, and the presenter tries to dash through 15 slides in 3 minutes. So: use PowerPoint, but don’t let it entrap you (and don’t use it to entrap your audience!).
Strategies for using PowerPoint:
Rather than give the “10 best tips to use when creating a PowerPoint presentation,” I thought I’d give you only the top five. That way, I begin by emphasizing not the tactical aspects of the tool, but the strategic reasons for using it.
- Signposts for your presentation – display a slide with a brief outline at the beginning and, importantly, return to that slide when each milestone is reached. That way your audience will know where you’re going and will stay more engaged.
- Illustrations, charts, graphs, and other visual information – The exchange rate of pictures to words is, at last estimate 1:1000. Instead of describing a building, a product, a scene, a landing page, the number of moving parts in a rotary pulse jet engine (answer: twelve), you could show them in an eye-catching way (perhaps in an egg carton?).
- Levity, or counterpoint to your presentation – think of the right part of the screen in The Word feature on the Colbert Report. You can use PowerPoint as the straight man in your presentation to simulate a dialog.
- Customizing a general presentation – I recently gave a presentation to a few different city councils about how cities can use social media. For each one, I substituted pictures of their own city (taken from Flickr feeds) to illustrate each point. For the 45-minute presentation, I had only 9 slides, but each one had some visual cue that tied their specific city to the point I was making.
- Notes for yourself – this is related to the first point. PowerPoint allows you to write notes to yourself, and you should use that feature to your full advantage. Also, build visual cues into your presentation to help you move gracefully from one point to the next.
So what does this mean?
- Where possible, use pictures, charts, graphs, and illustrations in addition to (or instead of) text, and allow an average of three minutes per slide.
- When you use text, use an appropriate font-face and size, use as few words as possible; format the slide; and couple text with simple, compelling images. I tend to use a san serif font like Arial, Helvetica, or Verdana (well, maybe not Arial), 24-point for normal text and never larger than 36-point, even for titles.
- Be judicious in your use of transitional effects; if there’s a reason to have words or images bound onto the screen like a hopped-up jackrabbit, fine, otherwise, use a clean transition.
- Use an intro, outline, and closing slide. Give people the title of your presentation, an outline of what they’ll hear, and closing slide that contains your contact information.
- Use the notes feature so that your entire presentation is smooth and integrated and, if appropriate, have copies of your presentation as handouts.
Do you have any additional tips? Leave ’em in the comments section.
Next week I’ll start answering reader questions/conundrums. They’ve all been great so far. Keep them coming!