Stop making bad PowerPoint presentations

Mollie Ficarella, CareerBuilder Writer

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In the modern business world, presentations are important. Workers need to present their ideas clearly and concisely so that upper management, clients and other employees can understand. Why, then, are so many presentations bad? They use special effects to transition slides, sound effects when words appear on the screen and text that clashes with the background. These presentations can make the audience tune out, and that is not what anyone wants. Darlene Price, author of "Well Said!" has listened to hundreds of presentations, both with and without the use of PowerPoint, and offers these tips to ensure your presentation is a success. 

The power of your presentation skills
A common misconception about presentations is that you must use PowerPoint slides. The most effective presentation tool is and always will be the presenter. Winston Churchill's Iron Curtain speech is still revered today, because it was well-written and well-delivered. Also, modern technology never fails to break as soon as it's needed. The PowerPoint file may be corrupted or the computer might crash, but if you know your material you can still give a great presentation. The conversation you have with the audience is more important than the content displayed on a computer screen.

If you're lucky enough to avoid any computer mishaps, you should still keep the focus on you and what you're saying. Slides are not to be used as a crutch but as a visual aid to express abstract concepts or drive home the main points. They should be used only when appropriate. If you can say it without using a slide, don't use one.

Design tips
If you choose to use slides, there are some simple rules that you should follow. Be sure that your audience can read your slides easily by using a large standard font on a contrasting background. Full sentences are not needed. Instead, use phrases to save space and make your point concisely.

Each slide should present one point, rather than multiple ones. If your slide includes a list, use the PowerPoint effects to show one list item at a time so your audience doesn't read ahead. List items and bullet points should start with the same kind of word for consistency. Numbering your slides is helpful, so you can refer to certain slides when questions are asked.

Begin the presentation with a title slide and an agenda slide, so the audience knows what you're presenting and why. Also include a summary slide, so your audience remembers salient points and can ask follow-up questions effectively. 

Also, avoid using the same presentation multiple times; instead, customize it for your group. Presenting a new work initiative to upper management should be more formal than presenting to your team.

Finally, follow the 10-20-30 rule:

  • Use no more than 10 slides.
  • Speak for no longer than 20 minutes.
  • Use a 30-point font for your slides.

Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse
Many presentations have the problem of time -- you never have enough of it. That is why it's important to practice the presentation before giving it. Time yourself to see if you speak too quickly or slowly for the time allotted. Create a list for yourself of those things that you must say, need to say and want to say. Organize them in a pyramid starting from the top, so the key points of your presentation are not buried under the details that are interesting but not necessary. If possible, practice with the equipment you will be using so you can avoid technology issues.

Occasionally, you'll inherit a presentation from your boss or co-worker. Be sure to make it your own. Look through the slides and notes beforehand so you not only understand what you are presenting but you can do so in a compelling manner. The slides and notes are not as important as the main message and how you present it to your audience. If you're not intrigued by it, your audience won't be either.

Time to present
When presenting, always face the audience. While the slides may be on a screen behind you, you -- not the computer -- are giving the presentation. If you have a laptop that is showing the slides, look at that rather than the screen. Turning away from your audience is never a good idea. Remain standing, as that will help the audience to remain focused on you. If you can, stand to the left of the screen since people read from left to right. The audience can begin the presentation looking at you, read your slide and then drift back to focusing on you. Toggle your presentation slides to black periodically so the audience can see you more easily and focus on what you are doing. This also allows you to move around without blocking or stepping into the projector's light.

When speaking to senior leadership, frontload your presentation with the top 10 slides in case questions arise during the conversation. You can keep explanation slides closer to the end of the presentation and use them if time allows.

Once the presentation is complete and you are basking in applause, distribute handouts of your presentation. If you share them beforehand, your audience is more likely to tune you out by reading ahead to your main points. It's also a good idea to have two versions of your presentation -- the "show" version and the "handout" version, with the latter including more details than what you presented.

Mollie Ficarella is an email marketing coordinator and writer for CareerBuilder.



Last Updated: 26/11/2012 - 5:11 PM


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