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Death To PowerPoint!

I’m on a mission this year. A mission to expunge PowerPoint slides from all my clients’ presentations. For a while, I thought it was getting better. People seemed to be using fewer slides, though they were as poorly designed as ever. But, alas, there seems to have been a relapse. Maybe it’s because Microsoft comes out with new bells and whistles every couple of years or so and the temptation to use them is just too great to resist. I realize with an addiction like this one, expecting people to do away with it entirely is probably unrealistic. Well, a girl can dream, can’t she?

I’m on a mission this year. A mission to expunge PowerPoint slides from all my clients’ presentations. For a while, I thought it was getting better. People seemed to be using fewer slides, though they were as poorly designed as ever. But, alas, there seems to have been a relapse. Maybe it’s because Microsoft comes out with new bells and whistles every couple of years or so and the temptation to use them is just too great to resist. I realize with an addiction like this one, expecting people to do away with it entirely is probably unrealistic. Well, a girl can dream, can’t she?

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In lieu of going cold turkey, I’d like to recommend a few techniques that will improve any presentation and that will encourage the weaning process.

1. Limit the number of slides. These days, it is not unusual for a 30-minute presentation to contain 30-40 slides. THIS IS WAY TOO MUCH! Think about it from the audience point of view: They have to sit there and listen to a disembodied voice read to them. They have better ways to spend their time. When it’s me in the audience being bored, I just wish the presenter had sent the presentation to me and let me read it at my leisure rather than forcing me to attend the event. Bottom line, for a 30-minute presentation, choose the 5-10 most important slides. (Hint: 5 is better –- and so much braver –- than 10.)

2. Limit the information on each slide. There should be no more than 4-5 bulleted items or chart items on a slide. The fewer, the better. These can be fragments. You don’t have to write complete sentences or include every thought you’ve ever had on the subject. These bullets should function as triggers or cues for elaboration. I once watched a terrific presentation by the president of a major ad agency whose slides each consisted of a single statement –- no headers, no details, very powerful.

3. Make sure the slide is readable. How many times have you found yourself struggling to read a slide because the font was too small? This is another happy outcome of cramming too much info onto a slide. Have mercy on your audience. Body copy should be at least 18 points. 20+ is better.

4. Use message titles. Instead of a slide with a headline that says “Performance,” which in reality tells nothing about performance, consider a more complete thought such as “Company X significantly outperformed the S&P through 12/31/06”. If you’re stuck, you can often find the makings of a message title in your very first point on the slide. If you do nothing else as a result of reading this post, do this.

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5. Use animation and other bells and whistles sparingly. Most of the effects PowerPoint offers are useless. There is, however, at least one winning effect, the slide transition, “cover down.” This effect creates a smooth, professional transition from slide to slide and far outperforms the default transition. Make sure you click “apply to all.” If you’re bent on animating the information on the slide, experiment with those in the “peek” and “wipe” categories.

6. Automate effects as much as possible. There may be an item or two on an occasional slide that you would like to control by mouse click, but if you’re clicking for each item to appear, trust me, it’s too much work for you and too much “noise” for the audience.

7. Make liberal use of the “B” key. Most people don’t know this, but if you press the letter B on your keyboard during a PowerPoint presentation, the screen will go dark. This is a wonderful feature if, for example, you get into an audience discussion and want to eliminate the distraction of the projected image. When you’re ready to move on, press B again and you’ll be right where you left off.

8. Do not use a laser pointer. I don’t know whose brilliant idea this little piece of technology was, but not only is it distracting, it is quite ineffective, magnifying every movement or tremor of your hand. Can you say Stage Fright?

There is much more to this, but these techniques should start you on the road to recovery. I’ll have more on presentations, including PowerPoint in a future post.

Ruth Sherman • Ruth Sherman Associates, LLC • Greenwich, CT • ruth (at) ruthsherman (dot) com www.ruthsherman.com

About the author

Ruth Sherman, M.A., is a strategic communications consultant focusing on preparing business leaders, politicians, celebrities, and small business entrepreneurs to leverage critical public communications including keynote speeches, webcasts, investor presentations, road shows, awards presentations, political campaigns and media contact. Her clients hail from the A-list of international business including General Electric, JP Morgan (NY, London, Frankfurt), Timex Group, Deloitte and Dubai World.

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