Amazing On Stage

The Dos and Don’ts of an Effective PowerPoint

Anyone who has seen their share of PowerPoint presentations may think an alternate name for one of these would be Bedtime Story.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, it shouldn’t be that way if you take the right approach. Sure, if you’re talented in graphics and layout, your slides will be pretty cool, but if you’re not one of those people, you can still pull off a successful presentation by mostly avoiding all the irritating things.

Let’s start with its name — PowerPoint. It’s not PowerSpreadsheet, PowerNovel or even PowerEndlessGraphs. You’re not here to project an entire book onto the wall a page at a time. You’re trying to give people information that will stick. 

The fewer the Points you put on a slide, the more Power it has: PowerPoint. It almost seems too simple. One to three points per slide ought to do it; four max.

KNOW THIS

The slides are not the presentation. YOU are the presentation. Your slide show is just there as Your Assistant. It’s not there to upstage you, or make you sound smarter than you are, it’s there to agree with you. Make an outline of your content — just an outline. Look! You just wrote down the points you want to make! Now make your PowerPoint.

DO THIS

If you only prep one thing, do this: Practice your PowerPoint from the last row. Sure, it looked good when you put it together on your laptop or desk computer, but does it communicate all the way to the back of the room?

Those Pesky Dos and Don’ts

Argos Productions Managing Director Jeston Cole Lewis has a list of things one should do and not do when putting together your presentation. These are all common and commonsense suggestions.

Do use large fonts. Jeston says use at least a 16pt font. Others suggest 30pt or larger. The idea is not to see how much information you can put on one slide. You’re killing me if you’re going to fill up the entire slide with words and graphs and spreadsheets and too much of too much.

Don’t read your slides. You’re not an audio book. If you read your slides, you are just being redundant and not making the best use of your slides. Besides, I can read it to myself before you’re done with the second sentence. And if you’re forcing me to read a couple paragraphs, I’m shutting you out anyway. That’s a waste. Where’s the Power in that?

Do use bullet points. But not too many per slide. Our memory seems to be limited to only about three or four things at once — at the most.

Do use clear graphics. Do use appropriate photos and backgrounds. Don’t use small files you found on Google. They’ll pixelate and look like crap. They need to be large with good resolution. Do use an INFORMATIVE graph, if it helps. Don’t crowd up your slides with more than one or two graphs per slide and a bunch of words. Remember the Power. You’re not here to show off your vast knowledge of periphery things by gobblety-gooking a bunch of graphs.

Do use contrasting colors so the words pop. This is where looking at your PowerPoint from the back of the room will help. Can you read the darn thing? How much reading do you have to do? You didn’t really stick in a spreadsheet or a webpage capture, did you?

When you start, avoid letting the default template force you down its path. Use it as a base, but then make it yours. Make it fit your story. Do use transitions, but in moderation. The same with animation. Less is more. Your animation needs to serve a functional purpose.
Don’t embed videos. Your audio-visual team will thank you, and you’ll have a better experience, Jeston says. PowerPoint is a slide show. It’s not a multimedia event. If you embed videos, or video links, you’ve increased the odds that something won’t go as smoothly as one might like. Obviously, it breaks the flow of your presentation. Videos should be treated as separate elements.

The kind of messaging you can get across in a video outweighs most of what a PowerPoint can do. I’ve seen this multiple times at events to show the impact of a product on a customer’s need. The topic comes to life.
— Jeston Cole Lewis, Argos Productions

Other stuff

  • When in doubt leave it out.

  • Fonts. Be sensible. If you haven’t moved past Comic Sans, then now is the time.

  • Show up early. If you show up five minutes before your presentation and have changes to make and haven’t verified the equipment, you’re going to get burned. It’s almost a rule.

  • How many slides do you have? 10? 20? 140? 2,080? You get the point. These people are sitting on their butts giving you their attention, and it won’t take that long before they start fidgeting and wishing they were somewhere else. “I wonder if it stopped raining?” “I’m going to need some more coffee.” “I hope there’s a bathroom break soon.”

  • Someone just asked you a question. Why are you still answering the question three minutes later? Good grief.

  • Also, if someone does ask you a question, REPEAT THE QUESTION. The person in the back of the room didn’t hear it, I promise.

If you take all that to heart, you’ll do just fine, and you can grow your delivery skills and slide aesthetics. 

The PowerPoint is only Your Assistant. You’re the presentation.

BONUS VIDEO: Here’s another example of how PowerPoint can be used to spice up your presentation. This is James Veitch in a TED video, on the subject of “what happens when you reply to spam email.”

Dan Parnell

‘Dusty’ Dan Parnell has worked in radio, television and newspaper in the Treasure Valley for more than 30 years. He’s been a deejay, a newspaper editor and a live sports cameraman, in addition to a few other inexplicable talents.