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Why You Might Be Building Your PowerPoint Presentations the Wrong Way



Why You Might Be Building Your PowerPoint Presentations the Wrong Way

By Karen Geier

The original goal of a slideshow was to illustrate the presenter’s points with accompanying visuals that hasten buy-in and explain complicated ideas.

Unfortunately, somewhere along the way the presentation – or as it’s often called today, the ‘PowerPoint’ – became a dumping ground for novellas of information and poor design with the intent of being thorough. That doesn’t work. It’s now time to take back the presentation and make it work for you.

Clarifying the Goals of Presentations

Presentations are meant to show off a brief executive overview of a larger body of documentation. They should introduce your project or subject matter, assess the risks and rewards, and offer a clear conclusion. It’s important to not allow your presentation to suffer from “feature creep” whereby it also includes content that belongs in a handout and the supporting documentation for a given initiative. This may sound like it’s going to be more work, but in reality, it will save you from attendees tuning out your presentation, or reading ahead instead of listening to you. A carefully crafted presentation that leaves your meeting attendees informed and engaged is what your goal should be, not a “kitchen sink.”

Create an Outline for the Most Effective Presentation

It’s very important to do the work upfront by creating a bulletproof outline that guides the content and flow of your presentation. The purpose of this is twofold: first, you want to make sure the outline is a complete listing of the topics you need to cover, and second, it helps you solidify your topics and message in your own mind so you’re not complicating the presentation or repeating yourself.

The Theme

As you’re going through the outline exercise, a theme should begin to appear to you. Use this to craft a thematic message that will take your attendees though the beginning, middle, and end of the story you will present in the slides. Having a theme helps you simplify your message and make it memorable to your attendees (think about people who might not remember the name of a star or the movie he or she appeared in, but they can tell you what the movie was about). Make your story one that will stick.

The Breakdown

It’s important to be careful to only have one piece of information per slide. This might seem daunting, because on the surface, it might make you think your presentation will be too long if it gets up to 80 slides. But brevity and clarity will help you move through the slides quickly and keep your audience engaged. Consider how it feels to see a slide with 8 point font crammed on it to bolster a point.

Show, Don’t Tell

Look at your outline and think about how you can make your points visual. This doesn’t mean throwing up a graph or a piece of clip art that is tangentially connected to your point. Visual cues work on feelings. Consider actual photography that helps encapsulate the goals of your slides. These are readily available on stock image websites. If you can visually set the stage for your idea, it will translate better to your audience than text.

Use Good Design Principles

Use two to three fonts, separated by the job they will be doing in your presentation: one font for headings, one font for body text, and one font for special cases (like table headings or illustration captions).

Select a color palette, stay within a scheme of two to five colors, and be uniform in the way you apply these colors (for instance, one color is an accent you will use for all outlines, underlines, etc.).

When in doubt, keep your slides clean. Do not use slides with heavily designed backgrounds, because you can’t readily play with the design. It will get too crowded and turn off your audience.

Have a Separate Handout

If you don’t want people reading along with you (or ahead of you in some cases) do not hand out copies of your deck. Your goal should be a presentation deck that doesn’t make sense without its presenter.

You should craft a purpose-built handout instead that outlines the key takeaways that you only give out after a presentation. This will keep the team focused on you and your ideas during your presentation.

The goal of your handout should be a shorter, point-form version detailing the concepts you presented to your audience. Make it clear so those who were absent can understand it.

We’ve been acclimatized by a need for speed and endless documentation. And we often think that junky, overly complicated decks are the best way to cover a topic completely and eliminate opposition or questions regarding our presentations. This tactic rarely works. A clean, focused message, well-rehearsed and expressed visually is a key to delivering a presentation that sticks with your audience. A good story well told is your best presentation weapon.


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