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Presenting with Power Microsoft PowerPoint © – Best Friend or Worst Enemy?

ImageYou have been selected to attend a two-day external training programme. You arrive at the venue and, after registration, go into the seminar room. You see a large screen at the end of the room and on the presenter’s desk a laptop computer and a projector. Aha, you think to yourself, chances are we’re going to get some PowerPoint slides here.

Does this excite you or fill you with dread? Is the presenter one of those people who actually use this very powerful product intelligently or one of those who are keen to show off their ability to use the product and subject you to a large number of over-fussy slides, using every transition in the book with cartoons and Clip Art in excess?

In the right hands, PowerPoint can be a tremendously helpful visual aid. In the wrong hands, it can ruin an otherwise strong presentation.

Let’s examine some of the key elements in using PowerPoint effectively and see how the product can be used to the best advantage.

Planning the presentation

When developing a presentation, you will need to decide what you want to try to achieve through the content and commit the structure and content i.e. what you actually want/need to get across to the audience to paper in some format. Having decided on content, you then need to decide on what visual aids, if any, you want to use to support it. The key here is whether you actually need anything visual to help the presentation along. Whilst PowerPoint is in common use, is it actually the best support for your presentation? Do you need anything at all? Would a simple flipchart actually provide all you need?

If you decide that PowerPoint is the visual aid best suited to support your presentation, the time has come to start planning the slides themselves.

Developing the format

If you are working in a corporate environment and your company has a preferred PowerPoint template, colour scheme and font, then you will probably need to go with the flow. However, if you have choices, the following rules of thumb should help:

  • For the background use a neutral colour. Visually a shade of medium blue works well for most people
  • For the font colour, use either white or yellow. Both these colours provide a good contrast with the background colour and are normally viewable even by people with a degree of colour blindness. Colours combinations to avoid, save in exceptional circumstances, are red and green (colour blindness issues), blue and green, yellow and green (insufficient contrast) and black and white (uninspiring, if not boring!)
  • Choose a sans serif font e.g. Ariel or Verdana, rather than the default Times New Roman. Sans serif fonts are less fussy, arguably more business-like and most importantly, much easier to read from a distance
  • Use a point size of no less than 18 – 20. A lower point size may be difficult for people sitting a distance away from the screen to read.

Creating the slides

You have already decided what information you need to deliver during the presentation and have decided to use PowerPoint to provide visual support. The key word here is support. The visual aid should be there to add something to the presentation, or to help it along in terms of structure, but not to replace the presenter!

When going through your material, consider where slides might be of assistance. An example might be the agenda for the presentation, key points for discussion etc. but there is little benefit in reproducing large elements of your presentation as slides. The people attending the presentation are in the room to listen to the presenter, not to read slides! If large amounts of information are committed to slides, the audience may well spend longer reading the slides than listening to you. In any case, if you take this to extremes, you could simply give them all a set of slides, ask them to read through them and then see whether there are any questions.

Key tips to creating slides include:

  • Consider whether a slide will actually add value. If not, don’t create it. In terms of using the tool effectively the golden rule is “less is more”.
  • Keep the amount of information on a slide to a minimum. Include no more than 4 to 5 points per slide.
  • If you have a number of points to make on one slide, reveal the points one at a time, rather than all at once. In this way, you will keep the audience with you, rather than have them reading ahead.
  • If you need to display graphs, charts etc. try to make them as simple and legible as possible. If there is a large amount of data you need to display, by all means include it on a slide, but it may be better to enhance the impact by giving out the same information in hard copy.
  • When moving from one slide to the next, use transitions with care. PowerPoint has the ability to make information fly from almost any angle, dissolve etc. Whilst these can be fun to use, the risk in overusing them is that the viewers will most likely be more interested in what the next transition will be rather than concentrating on the material itself.
  • Use cartoons and Clip Art sparingly. If they really add value to the slide, so be it, but overkill can get in the way and unnecessarily distract the audience.
  • Always check out your slides before using them by testing them for clarity and legibility, ideally in the venue in which you will present.

Using the slides

Having prepared your presentation and the slides you will use to support it, the time has come to present. The following ideas may be handy:

  • Only display a slide for the period you are talking to it. Once the slide, or a bullet point on it, has served it purpose either switch the projector to sleep mode or simply put a card, or similar, between the projector and the screen
  • Try not to walk between the projector and the screen. Reading off people’s clothing is difficult at best!
  • If you want to point out something on the screen, which will generally be behind you, there’s no point in touching your computer screen. Your finger will not show on the large screen (as it would have done in the days of overhead projectors). If you need to draw attention to a particular element of a slide use a laser pointer
  • Try not to read word for word from the slides. The audience should be capable of reading for themselves

And finally…

Good luck with your presentations. Make PowerPoint your best friend rather than your worst enemy i.e. something that helps, rather than hinders.

Vincent Owen is a Senior Consultant with Interims for Development (www.interimsfd.com) the award-winning Human Resources and Training consultancy for Africa.

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