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How I learned to make effective PowerPoint presentations

Introduction

How many times have you heard the phrase “Death by powerpoint”?

How many times have you sat down to a presentation which is a stock template full of bullet points?

Unfortunately, the standard templates provided in Microsoft PowerPoint generally guide you in this direction when creating a presentation. Although the view of the templates has improved through the years, the general structure hasn’t moved on since the 90s. Combine this with a possible lack of experience and or training in how to use PowerPoint (or Keynote on a mac) and the end result is a tired clone of a million other sets of slides, with different words.

What is effective?

To truly be effective, whatever appears on screen behind you, the speaker, should complement your words. You want your audience to focus on the information you are delivering to them personally. Otherwise, your content may as well be delivered as an automated slideshow with no speaker.

If you put up a page full of bullet points, I can guarantee that your audience is not listening to you. They’re reading the text on screen, thinking, “Do I need to write this down, or are there handouts?”. Maybe even making a mental note to ask if you will be sending out a copy of the presentation afterwards. Sound familiar?

The key in my view to an effective presentation is to keep things simple. You shouldn’t have a 100-slide presentation, unless you’re presenting in a 4-hour meeting or longer.

Firstly, avoid sound and video. Embedded audio files and video clips, unless absolutely relevant to your content, only serve as yet another distraction from the topic you’re presenting on. Not only that, but they can fail, causing an abrupt stop in your otherwise smooth delivery. This can be embarrassing. It breaks your flow, and I’ve seen more than one presenter get completely flustered when the technology fails to deliver a funny video in the middle of a presentation.

It’s much better to keep the information to your spoken presentation, and only change the slide to accentuate what you are saying, so that the audience keep their attention on you. Simple pictures or photos which illustrate a particular point you are making are a great way to get your point across, as opposed to spelling out everything in bullet lists.

That having been said, if you need to present lots of facts and figures, then sure, you’ll need slides for that information, but choose methods of presenting the data in such a way as to not duplicate your spoken text. Tables, Infographics, charts and Graphs all serve this purpose far better than long lists of items.

Similarly, reduce the distraction by simply cutting down on the animations and transitions. A complex slide transition from one slide to another may look “cool” the first time it’s used, but if every slide changes to the next in a different way with rotating blocks/wavy slides/disintegrating pages etc, it ultimately draws the attention away from the presenter.

Consistency is key in this case. If you must use a transition between slides, keep to something simple like a fade or wipe, and keep the transition from one slide to the next the same as the last. Immediately the audience will be focussing on the content of your slides, not how you get from one to the other.

Now, here’s a radical idea. When writing your next presentation, before you even open PowerPoint or Keynote, you might even want to ask yourself; “Do I even need any slides at all?”

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