Tip: Stop the PowerPoint Madness

Break the Mold!

Have you been to a presentation lately that included slides? Were the slides covered with tiny text you tried to read while the presenter was talking? Did the presenter click to the next slide before you were finished reading it? Or, maybe there were so many photos on one slide you really couldn’t see any of them?

It’s funny. As audience members, we know how frustrating those experiences can be. But for some reason, when it’s our turn to present, we don’t always think about it from that perspective. We can be so focused on all the great material we want to share that we think more about cramming in all that information instead of “how can I help my listeners?”

Besides our desire to share all our knowledge, there are a couple of other factors that can keep us focused on our slides more than on our listeners. I read that one of the problems with PowerPoint (or Keynote or whatever program you use) is it’s too easy. Interesting! And true. It’s too easy to open up the program, dump all the text you want to say onto your slides, and consider it done!

Here’s another problem. We’ve been conditioned to think of our slide show as our handout. But, they are two different animals! During a presentation, a slideshow is not a reading medium. If your slides can get along very well without you, why do you bother showing up? You are the presenter, the storyteller, the human that other humans want to connect with.

Be a rebel from “the way everybody does it.” Focus on what is going to make your presentation a great experience for your audience. Here are some ways you can create slides that support your story and help your listeners:

Create your story first. And, don’t create it in PowerPoint. Once you’ve got your story figured out, then and only then, you can start creating your slide deck. Take your cue from Steve Jobs who never opened his Keynote program until he had planned his story.

Your slides are NOT your notes. It seems like 99.9 percent of the time, that’s how slides are used. Break the mold. Create slides for your audience, not for you. Notes are fine, but they don’t belong on the big screen.

Your slide deck is NOT a handout. Remember — slides are not a reading medium. If you want to distribute a handout, create a separate document.

A picture is worth a thousand words. Don’t we believe this anymore? We live in a time when there are literally thousands of images at our fingertips, and yet too often, we throw paragraphs of text up on a slide, asking people to read every word while we go on talking. Stop the madness!

Less is more. Use one image per slide. If an image is worth putting up on the screen, then go big and bold. It doesn’t cost any more to put each image on a separate slide. Why scrunch four images onto one slide when that makes it harder for your audience to see, much less know which one to focus on?

(More of) less is more. Keep slide text at a minimum — five words or less — in a font large enough to be read in the back row. Strive for one point per slide. If a bulleted list will be more helpful, bring in the bullet points one at a time.

The next time you’re in the audience where a presenter uses slides, take note of what works for you as an audience member and what’s frustrating. Use that experience (and the tips above!) to create slides that actually help your listeners.

— Judy