Poor PowerPoint. It’s been so misused, I may have to open a shelter for abused PowerPoint presentations. You know them–the ones with overloaded slides. With charts that need an engineer and an book of explanations to make sense. The ones read by the person at the back of the room. While the audience struggles to stay awake.
Not everyone who knows how to use a keyboard is a writer. Writing takes practice. Why bother? Without good writing skills, it’s hard to communicate clearly, to be understood. Or to write a decent PowerPoint (Keynote) presentation.
Most business employees use PowerPoint for presentations (and some, shudder, even for reports), but without knowing how to put together a good presentation, we have a lot of bad ones floating around.
Here are five quick tips on how to improve (today) your presentation from a course I teach. If you follow these five steps your next PowerPoint will be better than your last.
1.Don’t do what you hate seeing. What do you hate about other people’s PowerPoint presentations? Are they boring? Do they have a collection of unrelated bullet points? Write down the three worst things people do. Then don’t do any of them. Two complaints I hear often: no story development and horrible design.
2. PowerPoint was never designed to be report-writing software. Trying to create a report (“send me that deck!”) with PowerPoint will result in a horrible presentation and a weak report. PowerPoint was designed to have engineers talk to marketing. It’s a presentation software. Use it for that. What about the report? Well, if you do your presentation right, you will also be able to generate the report, but not in the same step.
3. Start with the story. Don’t start by opening PowerPoint and designing the slide. That’s not the story. If you start creating your presentation by opening PowerPoint, you get caught up in design instead of story. Presentations are always about the story. PowerPoint is a presentation aid. Story carries your ideas, visuals help people remember what you said and influences their thinking.
Visuals cannot be the content-carrier. Providing content is your job. How do you write a good story? Best way to start is to ask yourself: What do I want the people to think/do/believe when I’m done?
4. Stop using bullets. Most bullet points are unrelated topic headings that presenters use to know what to say next. That information belongs in the “Notes” section of PowerPoint. Most people put information that belongs in Notes on the screen. That’s the fast track to hearing snoring by slide 10.
5. Use images that help tell your story. For example, which makes you more interested in the topic of “Summertime home repairs”–a slide that reads:
Tips for Summertime Home Repairs
- Time home repairs to suit the heat
- Don’t paint wood that gets full sun in a.m.
- Wood will warp when sun dries paint
Or seeing this photo, while the presenter says, “Home repair is tricky when it gets hot. Wood soaks up paint. The sun dries it, but it also warps it, giving you a white picket fence that looks like teeth that need braces.”
The objection I hear most often is, “Well, where do I get pictures I can afford?” It always makes me smile. It makes me realize that most people write PowerPoint with only half the tools–words, but no photos or planned images.
Words are free-floating in your brain, so they are made to substitute for images. Another bad idea. You can take your own photos, which can be very effective. To take your own photos you have to plan ahead and be able to take effective photos. The fence photo could be better, but luckily, I know where that fence is. If I were putting together a PowerPoint, I’d take about two dozen photos and see which one or two work best.
Creative Commons has photos you can use, some for free, some for just a credit, and some with restrictions. There are also many clip-art sites, but clip art often seems more of a cliché than a good choice for photos. If you have seen it 60 times, so has your audience.
We have become a sophisticated visual culture, used to seeing excellent animation in movies and gaming downloads. Visuals are an important part of your PowerPoint. So is story. Use them both.
—-Quinn McDonald has seen way too many horrible PowerPoints. She teaches a class on storytelling that’s really a class on how to put together a good PowerPoint presentation.