Is PowerPoint evil?

Fresh SpectrumA colleague recently sent me yet another article about how PowerPoint is inherently evil and should be banned. I’m familiar with these articles. They usually point out that the templates are rubbish and encourage people to develop endless and meaningless lists of dot points which are not helpful to anyone, especially when you are not there to provide an explanation.

I always feel a bit silly defending PowerPoint, but I really do believe that PowerPoint is an awesome tool. It has its limitations, but it also has a lot of good points.

Things I like about PowerPoint

  1. It’s really easy to share. Remember the olden days when you couldn’t share your documents with someone unless they were also using a Mac? (Or windows as the case may be).  It was an absolute nightmare to continue working on a document at home after you’d finished work. By contrast, everyone in the world seems to be able to open a PowerPoint file these days, even Mac users.
  2. Most people have a basic understanding of how to use PPT. You don’t usually need to give people instructions about how to open and screen the slides. Most people can manage the three options of slide view, slide sorter, and normal.
  3. You can change the orientation of the slides. Actually not every knows that you can work in portrait view with your slides. I do this all the time to create documents. I don’t have any other options at work for creating documents with the words and pictures just where I want them. (Word is hopeless for this).
  4. You can create quite nice presentations if you put your mind to it, use a restrained and thoughtful approach to the design of your slides and you are clear about your messages.

I love the cartoon above which I have reproduced from a wonderful site called Fresh Spectrum. You should check it out.

 

Busy slides are rarely memorable

If you want people to understand and remember your message you should use fewer elements. Elements includes text, images, meaningless clip art and logos. When you remove unnecessary elements from a slide, this is known as removing noise. Too many things on your slides (including too much text) can be thought of as white noise, interfering with the clarity of your message.

I appreciate that not every message can be reduced to a few simple words and an image. Some concepts are indeed quite complex and require detailed explanations, but this doesn’t mean that you need to clutter up your slides and reduce their effectiveness. You need to work twice as hard to figure out what it is you are trying to say and how you can express this simply.

One way to do this is to build your slides instead of presenting the complete idea all in one slide. You can do this using the animation tools, or if this scares you, just use what I call ‘pretend animation’. This is where you duplicate your slide and add one element. Say, for example you want to explain the relationship between three chemicals, all of which have their own unique properties. If you put all three chemicals on the slide and speak about them one by one, your audience will be jumping ahead and may feel overwhelmed, especially when you get to the part where you explain how they interact with one another. So start with just the first chemical on the slide and then add the second element to the next slide. Imagine how you would explain the concept if you were drawing it on a whiteboard and just do the same thing in your slides.

Introducing and explaining each concept with a slide build is a great way to get your message across without confusing your audience.

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Slide makeover – Remarkablogger case study

remarkablogger
remarkablogger (Photo credit: johnscotthaydon)

Michael Martine from Remarkablogger runs a business aimed at helping people create and improve their business blogs. I like his attitude and his work. I was looking at his site recently and I noticed that he had created a presentation called ‘how to turn your about page into a secret freelance sales weapon’. You can take a look at it here. As you will see, it’s not a bad presentation, but it’s a fairly uninspiring, so I thought it would make a good case study.

Here are a few things to think about:

Your presentations are an important part of your overall brand.

 It struck me that the presentation wasn’t really branded in any clear way. I would develop slides (or preferably a template) with a colour palette that matched or complemented the colours on my website. The standard issue PowerPoint template that’s been used is uninspiring and clearly indicates that it was a rush job.

Use your slides to promote and advertise your business.

They are as important as your e-books, your newsletter or any other assets and should be given the same amount of time and effort. They’ll often have a long shelf life so it’s worth making them look as good as you can.

Use illustrations whenever and wherever you can.

In the slide below, Michael talks about the importance of your ‘about’ page, and should be illustrating his points using his own site as an example.

Slide1

Reduce the amount of text on your slides.

In the makeover below, I’ve tried to pick out the key points and reduce some of the clutter. I should mention that there is an audio track with the presentation, so the text on the slides only needs to contain the key points. Reducing the amount of text on the slides will reduce cognitive load and make it easier for your audience to absorb the information.

Slide2

You’ll also notice that I’ve emphasised ‘about’ by changing the font and the font colour. It’s important to let your audience know straight away what the slide is about.

Here’s another version with the bullet points separated from the image. This may appeal to you more as its a little cleaner.

Slide3


Provide examples from other sources.

Michael could have used his own page (which is kind of a mixed bag as it contains a fairly lengthy manifesto), or he could have used some of the really great examples on the web. Here’s just one…

Screen shot 2013-01-16 at 10.19.39 PM

In summary, you should endeavour to:

1. Brand your slides so that they are part of your overall package.

2. Use your presentations as a way to promote your business.

3. Use illustrations and examples as much as possible.

4. Reduce the amount of clutter and minimise the text.

Any other ideas? Comments and feedback welcome.

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4 ways to improve your presentations

Microsoft PowerPoint
Microsoft PowerPoint (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Let’s imagine for a moment that you have been asked to develop a presentation for your manager about a new HR policy. You begin by opening up the corporate template and start typing using the default settings in PowerPoint with its obligatory bullet points. Blah…blah…blah….

Before long you have lots and lots of slides loaded with text and you’re bored with the whole process.

It’s more than likely that your boss has provided with little or no guidance about what the point of the presentation is, or why it needs to be developed, or even who it’s for.

You want to create something professional. You’d like it to be a bit different, but not zany because you don’t want people to think you are weird and it won’t do your career any good to be thought of as too ‘out there’.

So where do you start with creating a presentation that is effective and gets the message across? Here’s where I can help.

1. FIRST THINGS FIRST

If possible sit your manager down and ask him or her the following questions:

  • Why do we have a new policy? Does it solve a problem or clarify a situation?
  • Who is the presentation for? If she says everyone, you might need to make two versions. One for staff, one for managers.
  • How are people likely to respond to the new policy? Will they see it as an improvement to their working conditions or a hindrance (you really need to know what the target audience is feeling about the issue that the new policy is attempting to address).

2. TELL THEM WHY IT MATTERS

Start your presentation with the reason why there is a new policy. For example a policy on working from home has been created because the organisation recognises that work doesn’t just happen at work, and that workers have complicated lives. Always start from how the policy will affect the people in the room and what problem it is trying to solve.

3. KEEP YOUR MESSAGES SHORT

Put your key points on the slides. One point per slide please! Make every effort to avoid corporate speak. Be straightforward and direct. So for example, instead of saying that the organisation has to rationalise their resources because of competing priorities, just say ‘we have limited funds and we need to use them wisely’. People really appreciate clear messages that get your point across.

4. TELL THEM WHAT YOU WANT THEM TO DO

Be very specific about this. Tell them exactly what you what them to do, don’t make them guess. Using our working from home example, ask them to read the new policy and speak to their manager if they are interested in working from home.

And that’s it. You will have created a presentation that is clear and helpful. It will tell people why they need to know and what they need to do. You’ll be a star!

Should you use a PowerPoint template to spice up your presentation?

At my workplace we are compelled to use a corporate template, but I am guessing that a lot of you might have the freedom to create your presentation on any old background that you choose? If this is the case, you might be wondering if its a good idea to use a snazzy template to improve the look of your presentation and give it a bit of zing, or whether you should stick with something more conservative?

As usual, the answer is IT DEPENDS.

It depends on where and when you will be presenting and who will be in the audience. A very conservative audience will not necessarily be impressed if you come up with slides that look too different.  If you are selling an idea or a concept, you don’t want to antagonise or distance your audience. You don’t want to be too different from them or they will not trust you or what you have to say. My advice is to find out what they are accustomed to seeing and then deliver something vaguely similar, but better. What you want to achieve is for them to feel that you understand their world, but that you can offer a beter alternative or solution to their problems.

It also depends on whether your background is going to distract your audience from your key messages. Your key aim is clarity. This doesn’t change. Every audience needs to be able to understand what you are saying and you need to be as clear as possible about this. Cluttering up your slides with pretty but irrelevant backgrounds will not help and nor will it disguise a lack of content or poorly organised content.

If you have the luxury of choosing a background theme or template, I would suggest that you choose something subtle and appropriate. This can be achieved through a careful choice of colour and I’ll talk about this next week.

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to share. If you are struggling with where to start or how to improve your presentations (or documents, as the same principles apply) please contact me.