Top tips for writing and using PowerPoint in your presentations
“PowerPoint is only a glorified slide-show, the point of power in the room should be the speaker” Thomas Everchild
PowerPoint for training, business presentations, briefings, speeches, pitches … friend or foe?
How to engage not enrage your audiences.
Any speaker wants to capture the audience’s attention, keep it, and get that message across.
We learn by hearing information – we pay attention to the words and to the voice and the way the words are delivered. Writing well-crafted material in conversational language and developing a strong, interesting and compelling voice will help them to engage with you and what you’re saying.
We learn by seeing information and picturing concepts. If we add the element of seeing the information to a presentation, that will increase the amount that goes in and stays in. Demonstrations, pictures, graphs, colours, diagrams, photos, videos, art, illustrations and visual aids will support your message.
We learn by doing things. We need to have a go, get our hands dirty, move about and get involved. Having to sit and stare at a screen and listen to a voice can mean our attention may wander and we may start to fidget, or drop off.
So the most successful presentations usually involve an element of all three, and they’re especially useful for training presentations where you want to get information, understanding and knowledge across.
PowerPoint can be a powerful aid to achieving success – it can also cause a presentation to crash and burn if not used well.
A clear heading sets the scene.
Use very little text – too much text will overwhelm and confuse. They’re hearing what you’re saying and also “hearing” the words they’re reading at the same time – and they probably won’t be the same words at once.
Cut, cut, cut.
Few bullet points.
Plenty of white space.
Plain uncluttered backgrounds without logos or decorations – they will distract.
Check spelling, grammar and punctuation – they matter.
The entire audience must be able to see, read and understand everything on your screen – tiny writing, cluttered images, confusing diagrams will confuse, irritate and distract them from your message. Nothing up there is just for the speaker’s benefit.
A picture paints a thousand words.
Concentrate on clear, good quality visual images – the slide is the equivalent of the picture on the TV screen. You don’t see the narration or the script on screen when you watch TV or a film so why should you want to when you look at a slide?
You can include internet access to demonstrate websites, play video and audio, which adds a lot of variety and interest. Just be sure you are very familiar with it all and your WiFi connections are good.
Follow the film rule of “show don’t tell” – it’s your message in visual format.
Programmes come with all kinds of distracting and irritating features – wipes, animations, fade in, fade out .. these quickly become a distracting bore, as do clip art and cheesy “humorous” cartoons. Leave them out.
Preparing to use the PowerPoint
‘Can you send me your presentation in advance?’ No.
People often make the mistake of thinking that the PowerPoint IS the presentation.
It isn’t – you, your words and your message are the presentation, the slideshow is the icing on the cake. You should be able to deliver it perfectly well even if – as once happened to me – the new training building has not yet been wired up for electricity, and you can’t even use the slides.
You can certainly send the PowerPoint in advance especially if they need to set it up on their system.
You can create handouts with the slides and writing space that you can give out in advance so they can write notes as you talk it through. It’s very formal and quite constraining.
You can create and print speaking notes for yourself with the slide at the top of the page and the relevant notes below – useful if you can’t see the screen all the time.
‘I can’t attend – can you send me the PowerPoint?’ Yes – but it isn’t the presentation. You can certainly send them the slides plus the handout, which will include the text. The slides won’t.
Using the PowerPoint
Try to get in early and if it’s an unfamiliar place and system, make sure you know how it all works. If it won’t respond, make sure everything is plugged in properly before calling IT …
Ideally your laptop should be in front of you and to the side so you can glance at it and check you are on the right slide, but it’s not a barrier between you and the audience.
Have it on a USB so if your laptop doesn’t connect you may be able to borrow one there.
A clicker is useful so you don’t have to go back to the laptop to change slides every time. There’s probably an integral USB cleverly slotted inside one end – take it out and slot it into your laptop. That will connect your clicker and the laptop and allow you to click forwards and backwards. They often have a helpful laser pointer attached. Take a spare battery.
When speaking I always advise you “allow the pause …” this gives time for the audience to think and catch up, for your message to sink in.
As a visual equivalent, try the B [for Blank screen] and W [for White screen] keys, so their attention comes back to you. You are the presentation, after all!
‘Worshipping the slide,’ where the speaker keeps gazing up at the image instead of the audience, is a sure way to lose their attention. Having a lot of text up there will attract and keep your gaze, especially if you’re nervous. Stop speaking, glance at it, look back to the audience – then start speaking again.
Use it – and lose it. When you’re done with that image, let it go or it will distract from your next point. It gives them a rest from staring at what can be quite a bright image.
Beware Death by Powerpoint – the speaker turns the lights off so everyone can read the text they are droning through, and the gentle hum of the fan and the warmth of the room gradually lulls them all to sleep….
And do keep it short. Especially just after lunch.
PowerPoint has its place – and it’s not centre stage.