Presentation Skills: PowerPoint has never killed anyone, yet millions have suffered from “Death by PowerPoint.” PowerPoint has a 95% share of the presentation software market. It’s the de facto visual aid used in corporate presentations. Every day over 30 million PowerPoint presentations are created. Unfortunately, most are awful.
There’s nothing wrong with PowerPoint. It’s a great tool — a hammer, a toothbrush, or a fork — make the tasks easier to accomplish; however, when used inappropriately, the tools work ineffectively at best and cause grave harm at worst. Imagine using a fork to brush your teeth. Ouch! Great tool. Wrong application. Most people use PowerPoint as a glorified word processor, filling their slides with lots of text. Great tool. Wrong application.
Shift your thinking – Let’s reframe a PowerPoint presentation as a road trip, a pleasurable drive on a wide-open road. The presenter is the driver, and the audience is the passenger. As the driver you invite your audience to join you on a PowerPoint road trip.
You should use slides that have strong visual images with few, if any, lines of text. Imagine your slides as canvas to be drawn on, containing as little text as possible. Think images. Think pictures.
On a PowerPoint road trip, you’ll take your audience on a tour of your thoughts and ideas using highly visual signs. You use each new sign as an opportunity to tell a story, and at the end of your trip, you deliver your passenger to a new destination. Hopefully, they’ve been transformed by the experience and share it with others.
Rearview mirror – If the story above is reminiscent of your slide deck, then your presentation skills get the checkered flag. You understand how to inform your audiences with highly visual signs and guide them toward a clearly defined destination. However, if your presentations seem closer to a rush-hour commute in heavy traffic, then it’s time for a tune-up of your slide deck.
Video – PowerPoint Road Trip – 5 point checklist
Speed read – Your presentation slides should resemble interstate highway signs – clearly visible with highly legible text. Presentation slides should provide essential information that can be absorbed in seconds. Unfortunately, most presentation slides resemble historical markers – lots of small text meant to be read while standing still.
Which sign can be read while traveling at highway speeds?
Look at the following three examples of presentation slides that feature Washington, DC.
The first one lays out the city’s story like a book. It has a paragraph’s worth of full sentences. It’s a document, not a presentation slide. No presenter is needed to deliver this information. The audience can read the text and understand the story.
The second slide is Washington’s story formatted with bullet points – too many. Although not a document, this slide still has too much information, which makes the presenter unnecessary. Once again, the audience can read and understand the information on its own.
The third slide example is just the city name and an image. It has the efficiency of a highway sign. The slide is highly visual with minimal text. This slide gives the presenter maximum flexibility. The information can be absorbed in seconds, yet it requires a presenter to give it meaning and relevance.
Five point checklist for tuning up your presentation skills and creating a PowerPoint road trip.
1) Know your destination – Have a clear and concise message. Make sure that you know where you are taking your audience.
2) Be a responsible driver – Respect your audience. Do not read your slides to your audience. Connect with them with more than just your words. Use eye contact, vocal variety and movement to reach out and engage them.
3) Create clear signs – Design slides that are highly visual and support your key message. Use as little text as possible, maybe two or three words.
4) Pack light and tight – Tell your story with only the essentials. Use the fewest and strongest points to support your key message. When in doubt, leave it out.
5) Fuel your presentation – All road trips should start with a full tank of gas. Your personal passion is the fuel that will power your presentation. Like a car without gas, your presentation won’t go far without passion. So, fill‘er up with premium.
Charles on the road in Morocco.
Happy trails – Having been both a driver and a passenger with PowerPoint presentations, I know that it’s pleasurable to be in either seat when this checklist is followed. My thoughts on PowerPoint have been formed from my use of the tool in presenting a wide range of information, my research on the subject, and my time spent in the company of true masters of the tool at the Presentation Summit. My thoughts on road trips come from several very memorable experiences.
Driver’s manuals – Make a pit stop and read the books of Nancy Duarte and Garr Reynolds. No matter what your presentation software choice, PowerPoint, Keynote, or Prezi, their “less is more” thinking about presentation skills will point you in the right direction.