It’s fair to say that we hate PowerPoint. Well, perhaps that’s a slight exaggeration. Maybe it’s better to say that we hate bad PowerPoint, and whilst we don’t claim to be experts in the software, we’re very aware of the lax attitude people can have when it comes to creating impactful, concise slide decks.
Many of you will be familiar with the term “Death by PowerPoint”. You know that feeling of disengaging with what someone is saying, because there’s simply too much going on for you to understand and digest? That’s what we mean.
DBP (“Death by PowerPoint”) can happen anywhere, and it’s more common than you might think. Team talks, presentations, board room meetings, training, events, conferences- all can be totally derailed by slide after slide of endless, text-heavy content.
In conferences, meetings and events, a good slide deck can be instrumental in helping to make messages land. A properly-branded and highly-visual PowerPoint, with clear, impactful messages, can make a real, professional difference to a conference or event. Slide decks can also help structure and guide the day, useful in not only any sessions being run, but also signposting the day’s agenda, breakouts, timings, groupings and refreshment breaks. With this in mind, if you’re using a PowerPoint, you’re going to want to get it right.
So, want to know how to avoid killing your audience with a slide deck? Here’s a few things to remember…
A PowerPoint is not your speaker notes
First things first, let’s address the golden rule of presenting using PowerPoint: the slide deck is for your audience, not for you. There is nothing more disengaging than watching a presentation by someone who is using the deck as their own personal aide memoire.
Your audience don’t have to see everything you’re going to say, or exactly how you’re going to say it. That bit is up to you. Structure the PowerPoint around what you have to say and then let it guide you in the presentation, using whatever is on the slides behind to reinforce your message, not repeat it. Keep words on each slide to a minimum (Seth Godin recommends only 6!), and use any words you use to summarise key points.
Make sure the things you’re going to say go on cue cards or index cards, not on the slide deck. Not having to glance at the screen behind you for every second word will give more freedom of expression and more clarity in how you present, as well as making the presentation easier to digest.
Make your content clear
Ensure you have a clear overall objective for the meeting or session before you even start to construct your accompanying PowerPoint. What are you trying to say? Once you know this, you can tailor the content to the time you have available, and start to edit down the unnecessary items for a streamlined and clear message.
Ask yourself: “does it need to be said?” If the answer to that is “no”, then the only way forward is by removing it from the presentation. Don’t keep in unnecessary content or context; stick to what your audience need to hear. The edit process might be tough. Sometimes, you’re going to have to cull topics, ideas and points that you might not want to. But ultimately, it’s the only way forward.
From this, if you’re using a PowerPoint, you can start to build a slide deck which says no more than it has to, brings to life your key points and clearly sets out what you want people to know and remember.
And if you need a “So what?” moment, a series of key points and takeaways, take a short summary slide at the end. Never give out handouts or slide notes before the presentation, and if you want to leave the audience with something physical, design a clear one-pager that sums your presentation up.
Bullet points are not your friend
Bullet points can sometimes seem like the easiest way to summarise key points whilst reducing the word count of a slide. But remember: your audience can read faster than you can speak. If you’ve got a bullet-pointed list that all appears at the same time, the likelihood is that your audience will have read the lot before you’ve even talked through the first one.
If you absolutely have to use a bulleted list, make use of PowerPoint animations, so each point arrives on-screen as you want to talk through it. This gives you more freedom to expand on the points you’re making, and avoids people reading ahead before just switching off. Even better, use clean, hi-res graphics to illustrate the points you’re making, and use your bullet points in your speaker notes instead.
Make it visual
Want to create an engaging PowerPoint? Your best bet is to make it as visual as possible. You know what they say about pictures: “a picture tells a story”; “a picture tells a thousand words”, etc. Well, in this case it’s definitely true. If you’re looking to reduce the “Death by PowerPoint” factor, edit out your words, and replace them with images.
Visually appealing PowerPoints are not only far more interesting to look at, they’re also excellent signposting for the person presenting to know what to talk to. And more importantly for your audience, pictures can convey messages and tell a story in a single glance; far quicker than words ever can. Pictures spark emotion, and it’s emotion you need in any presentation to keep your audience on board and your content memorable.
And, at the very least, good images provide an engaging background. Even if you don’t mention what’s behind you; even if it’s a standalone image; even if the slide is just a picture…it’s better than a slide of just words.
Of course, there are a few guidelines when it comes to the pictures you choose. No unprofessional-looking or low-quality images; no stock images; nothing cheesy; no cartoons. And it goes without saying, but nothing offensive. Absolutely, the shock factor is fine if appropriate and in moderation, because a hard-hitting picture really can tell a story, but nothing gratuitous.
Always make the pictures relevant to the subject, use them to illustrate points where you can, and even better, use them as the points you’re make where possible.
Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse
Bearing our previous points in mind, sometimes you can have the best PowerPoint in the world, but it’s presented by someone who neither knows their content well, nor really understands the best way to present to it. The answer to this? Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse.
Smaller meetings might not have the same imperative for polished and professional performance, but if the presentation’s part of a large conference or event, you’ll need to rehearse beforehand. And by rehearsing, we mean a full run-through with the cue cards and the slide deck, to make sure everything is running smoothly. Get everything in order; practise every transition, animation and pause; make sure the content lines up and the message is clear.
Even better, invite a few trusted team members along to the rehearsal to hear the presentation. Let them review, help and suggest ways to improve if they think the presentation needs a bit more oomph to avoid “DBP”. Take on board their feedback and then run it through again with the changes you’ve made.
And, finally…It’s not 2005 anymore.
…So, don’t make your PowerPoint look like a fossil. If you’re the one in charge of creating the deck, please stay away from Word Art, sound effects or cheesy animations. It will cheapen your message almost instantaneously.
By bearing the above in mind, you should hopefully avoid the pitfalls associated with bad PowerPoint, keeping your audience engaged and staying far away from the dreaded DBP.
For more conference hints and tips, our Memorable Meetings series sets out more watch-out elements to consider when planning a conference, meeting or event (there’s much more to consider than your slide decks!)
For visual ways of conveying messaging effectively and translating business messages into artistic creations, take a look at our Visual Creation, Artwork and Illustration page.
If you want to create a conference which is impactful, memorable and engaging then have a chat with our creative team. Drop us a line on firstname.lastname@example.org or call the Monster Office on +44(0) 1926 311347