12/25/16 • Five Tips for Using PowerPoint More Effectively

As posted in The Gaston Gazette:

(12/25/16) BELMONT, N.C. –  Whether to your local Rotary Club or to a very important client, giving a presentation can be one of the most exhilarating – and most stressful – events of your business career. Here you are, charged with delivering the distilled and compelling message of your business, and what’s your number one, go-to tool? Most likely it’s PowerPoint. The problem is, most of us are using PowerPoint in a manner that leaves our audience confused and frustrated.

How do you make the most of this fantastic digital tool? You take a pared-down, streamlined approach that allows PowerPoint to highlight your message rather than obscure it. Here are five tips that will have you using PowerPoint like a pro in no time:

  • Stick to simple slide construction. Although you may be tempted to “go big” with your PowerPoint construction and design, it’s best to keep it simple. Too many different graphics, fonts, and colors can make it difficult for both you and your audience to pay attention to your presentation, which is by far most important. Dave Paradi, a presentation expert with the Think Outside the Slide website, says it is better to use contrasting colors, a large font, and slides that don’t include animations. This allows your message to attract the attention that the graphics sometimes can absorb. Also, make your content decisions first, then focus on style during revisions. If you focus on the development of your ideas first, you’ll be more likely to recognize the power of your message and less likely to obscure it with anything that might interfere with its ability to connect with your audience.
  • Use less text and more images. This tip seems counterintuitive to most people – after all, isn’t PowerPoint supposed to be copy-heavy? Not at all. PowerPoint presentations should include only the most relevant, most concise text that you need to communicate the basic elements of your message. And sometimes images – pictures, simple charts and graphs, screenshots and more – are even better than text at communicating that message. Not only can they present a theme or idea in a way that allows your audience some room for interpretation, but it also keeps people from simply reading what’s on the screen while you talk and encourages them to pay close attention to what you’re saying. The University of Central Florida’s Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning also points out that slides with minimal text send a signal to your audience that you want them to engage with the material in a personal way rather than simply hand every idea to them fully formed.
  • Use slides as enhancements, not as notecards. We’ve all been to those presentations where someone puts up a very wordy PowerPoint and simply reads through each slide. This method of presentation isn’t much of a presentation at all – it’s equivalent to someone reciting a paper. PowerPoint presentations can and should be far more than simply an oration. PowerPoint does its  best work if it’s used to enhance what a speaker is saying rather than simply stand in for it, says Gary Chapman, director of the 21st Century Project at the LBJ School of Public Affairs. If we view a PowerPoint as an enhancement rather than as simply an outline of our presentation, it allows us to imagine how that presentation tool can function in a much more dynamic fashion.
  • Make the audience’s experience an active one. Speaking of dynamic: imagine watching a presentation where the presenter provides a link to a PowerPoint that you can move through at your own pace, one with hyperlinks and images. Imagine embedding a YouTube video, or an interactive survey for participants. Imagine a presentation where the PowerPoint slides ask the audience to engage in activities during the talk. There is a host of ways to reimagine how your audience can interact with a PowerPoint; this kind of movement from passive viewing experience to engagement with the presentation itself presents tremendous opportunity for your audience to play an active role in your presentation.
  • Always have a back-up plan. The computer won’t start. The projector bulb blows. The PowerPoint is somehow missing from your email or the jump drive on which you were certain you’d saved it. Everyone has had one of those stomach-churning technology glitches. And while we can’t predict when they’ll occur, we can certainly prepare ourselves for when they do take place. A dress rehearsal should always be part of your preparation, as should some kind of back-up plan. So, practice that presentation in front of a mirror, and also have some printed copies of your PowerPoint on hand in case you can’t bring it up on the big screen. The peace of mind it will give you will be worth it.

Adopting an approach rooted in simplicity and shifting your view of PowerPoint to a tool of enhancement will have another added benefit: it will allow you to begin to step forward and own both your message and its delivery rather than using the tool as a go-between. Ultimately, the goal of any presentation should be to leave the audience a memorable impression of you as their presenter and the message you have to deliver to them, not for them to get bogged down in the tools you used to make it happen.

Lyerly Agency’s President and CEO Elaine Lyerly and Executive Vice President and COO Melia Lyerly share their 35+ years of marketing, advertising, public relations and brand strategy experience with readers each month in a column published by The Gaston Gazette.