There are others who see PowerPoint for what it is: a support player for the main event - you! Ironically, it’s the latter group that often makes more use of Powerpoint’s rich feature set and gets more from the tool. These are presentations you do remember and applaud.
I can remember delivering presentations using photographic slides mounted in a carousel, so I’m not about to knock a tool that makes the whole process more flexible and efficient. But convenience can make us lazy.
As a guide, I like the 10/20/30 rule expounded by Guy Kawasaki: no more than 10 slides, presented for 20 minutes and no text smaller than 30 point.
It’s so easy to create a workable slide deck using a minimal number of functions, so many presenters don’t look deeper into what the tool can do. They serve up the staple diet of ‘slides with bullets’ without question. Like any staple, if it’s all you get to eat it gets pretty boring.
Here are a few quick tips to help you add a bit of spice to your presentations and excite your audience’s intellectual tastebuds.
PowerPoint comes with an array of attractive templates and backgrounds. If you witness a lot of presentations I bet you’ve seen all of the most popular ones.
A custom background is easy to create and right away makes your presentation look different. If you choose your background image wisely you can also send subliminal messages to your audience. Your background could emphasize your technical credentials, the caring nature of your organisation or the sense of wellbeing that will come once your solution has been accepted.
Background images should be something that clients can relate to, so maybe you need a specific background for each presentation or client. Just remember to choose something that will allow any text on your slides to stand out. Avoid anything too busy. If you have nothing smaller than 30 point type you shouldn’t be too restricted.
Make it look neat
When you build your slides you can move elements around the screen with ease. Just remember that any small misalignments will be magnified when your slide is projected onto a big screen. What looks fine on your laptop can suddenly look a bit scruffy.
Fortunately there’s an alignment tool that you can use to snap all of your images and screen elements perfectly into line. Use it every time you have elements that need to line up, don’t trust your eyes.
Transitions for effect
Some people love to play with the slide transitions; boy, do they love to play with them! You can get quite dizzy as they zoom in, zoom out and fly in from all directions. I very rarely use transition effects.
When I do it’s because I want a particular slide to stand out. It will be reserved for the handful of slides in every presentation when I need to know that everyone is paying attention.
The same can be true with animation effects. I’ve yet to see any good reason for animating bullet points, other than a simple ‘appear’ if you need to stop your audience reading ahead. With minimal written content there’s usually no need even for this.
Where you can use animation to excellent effect is with graphical elements. If you’re using a pie chart, animate it so that segments appear one at a time as you interpret their meaning. For line graphs you can choose when each plot gets displayed. You can precede the big reveal with a leading question: ‘What do you think the results were..?
Suddenly, the process is more interactive. You’re not just displaying a chart and describing it, you are involving your audience in building it: the learning and the engagement go much deeper.
And if you’re using bar charts, don’t! Unless there’s absolutely no other way to display the data. In which case animate each bar so that you can gradually build the picture (metaphorically and literally).
Presenter View is a highly under-used feature. This allows you to have a normal full screen view for your audience while your laptop view shows a number of control tools. Your view can show you reminders of your key points and the slides that are still to come.
You also have pen and laser pointing tools to highlight particular areas of the slide. When it’s absolutely unavoidable to have a complicated slide, this can help your audience through it.
There’s also a handy on-screen zoom tool so that you can click on a particular element and zoom in on it while you talk about it. Best of all there’s a black screen button so that you can get people to stop looking at the screen altogether when they need to focus on you.
Again, use these tools sparingly and only when they really help. The last thing you want is to be stuck behind a podium fiddling with your laptop when you should be engaging attention.
This is probably the one I would be most cautious with. PowerPoint gives you the option to play sound files as a background across a number of slides. It can be useful if you think you might need to drag back audience attention; but it can also be a real nuisance to get the level right so you can talk over it. And if anything is going to fail on the day it’s going to be either sound or video.
Fortunately Microsoft Help is much more helpful than it once was. There are step-by-step instructions to show you what to do and no reason for your PowerPoint presentations to all be ‘plain vanilla’ and dry bullets.