Make PowerPoint powerful

9th December 2014

Two phrases you commonly hear:

  • ‘I don’t feel comfortable making presentations ‘
  • ‘I use PowerPoint as a comfort blanket’

Which does beg the question: how good a comfort blanket can PowerPoint be, if people feel so uncomfortable using it?

And, even if you like PowerPoint, it’s your audiences – not you – that dictate whether your presentations are a success. So, your slides must be audience aids, not speaker prompts.

Audiences hate sitting through tedious, wordy slides. Presenters hate delivering alongside them. So, here are five simple guidelines to using PowerPoint more effectively:

  1. Start correctly: begin by thinking what you want your audience to do after your presentation – not what your content/slides should be. Let this ‘do’ govern your entire preparation
  2. Go to PowerPoint last, not first: PowerPoint should be a tool to convey your thinking, not the way you think
  3. Less wordy: your slides should accompany – not duplicate – you. They must not tell the whole story, or there’s no point you being there. Only put key, simple, digestible words/visuals on your slides, for you to elaborate on
  4. Use the visual medium for visual things: PowerPoint is an excellent tool for communicating visual messages – graphics, charts, etc. But it’s a rubbish way to communicate full sentences and reasoned arguments. You – the presenter – are better at doing that. Either create visual, text-light presentations; or wordy, text-heavy documents. Don’t create something that tries to be both and, thus, is neither
  5. Use slide builds: if a slide has four points, your audience will be reading points 2-4 while you discuss point 1. This means they aren’t fully focused on any of them. Stop them reading ahead by clicking to bring up each new point

And the best thing about PowerPoint? When you press ‘B’ on the keyboard, it blacks out the screen – perfect for when you want your audience 100% focused on you, not the slides.

Action Point

Review a recent PowerPoint, and see how well you follow the five guidelines. Then, think of 1-2 simple ways to improve your next presentation.

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