I recently attended a business meeting where the audience received the all too common ‘Death by Powerpoint’ where because the speaker had clearly not received any training in presentation skills, he managed to lose the audience totally within the first few minutes and never regained contact despite having some 40 minutes to do so! I am sure that we have all endured similar occasions with varying degrees of tolerance.
I think that many organisations, instead of sending people on ‘Presentation skills’ courses, they began to send people on ‘How to use Powerpoint’ courses with an emphasis on the clever transitions, builds and effects that each new version of Powerpoint made available. Please don’t think that I am totally ‘anti’ Powerpoint for it definitely has a place in presentations – when appropriate and when used correctly. It is after all meant to be a support to the presenter, not the presentation itself.
So if you want to or have to use Powerpoint, what should you do to avoid being accused of causing death by Powerpoint?
My first tip is the most important – design your presentation first – ALWAYS! Having decided what you want to achieve, what you want to say and how you want to say it, then decide how using Powerpoint can enhance your presentation, not take the place of your presentation!
Secondly, remember the KISS principle – Keep it simple, Stupid! Unless there is a specific requirement for fancy transitions and builds, avoid them like the plague. They can easily distract your audience and take their attention away from you – which is where it should be at all times. As a guide, I never use transitions and use the simplest build where bullet points appear one at a time – note the word appear, which doesn’t mean to fly in from every direction while spinning rapidly.
Thirdly, limit the number of words on any slide. Never put large tracts of text on a slide and expect the audience to read it. If you have such information for them to read, provide it in the form of a handout rather than test their eyesight with text that is almost always too small for most of them. As a guide I try to use 60 point for titles, 48 point for headings and 32 point for other text. I’m not putting those numbers on tablets of stone – they are just guidelines based on experience.
Fourthly, think carefully about your use of colour. There are plenty of sources of expert advice on this matter available online so I won’t go into detail but do remember that a significant percentage of the population (mainly males) are affected to some degree by colour blindness!
Fifthly, and perhaps the most important, is how to set up the room for the presentation itself. I recommend that you position the laptop or PC in front of you between you and the audience. That way you can easily see both the slide on the screen in front of you and the audience. At all costs you must try and avoid talking to the screen on which the presentation is being displayed – it cannot hear you and the audience prefer not to see your back! Should you need to indicate something on the slide, using a laser pointer, turn to the screen, indicate the bullet point, graph or other item that you need to draw specific attention to, and then look back at the audience before you begin speaking again. It takes practise but it really is very important that you maintain as much eye contact as possible. It is really useful to have a copy of the slides available – preferably in front of you rather than in your bag! It is really useful to know what the next slide is about! Later versions of Powerpoint have a feature called ‘Presenter view’ which splits your screen to show the current slide plus gives you access to other slides without the audience seeing what you are looking at – useful!
Finally for now, my final point is that there is no substitute for practise – for those who like alliteration:
Professional Pre Presentation Planning and Practise Prevent Poor Performance!
Paul’s next one day course on presentation and networking skills will be held on the 19th June 2012 at the Shropshire Chamber Offices on Stafford Park 4. There will only be six delegates on each of Paul’s courses to ensure maximum benefit to each delegate. In addition to learning how to create effective presentations with and without Powerpoint, Paul will also show how to avoid the many pitfalls of networking for those who feel the need to use it! Details at www.adastraassociates.com/scheduled-courses