5 steps to effective Powerpoint Presentations

Stepcase Lifehack just published a blogpost on tips for more effective PowerPoint presentations. I was surprised to see some outdated and unhelpful advice. Here are my five steps to create an effective PowerPoint presentation. I’ve written about many of these steps before, so I’ve provided links to more detailed posts if you’d like more information.

1. Plan your presentation on paper first.

Keep away from the computer. Garr Reynolds from PresentationZen calls this going analog.

Instead focus on your audience and what you want them to take away from the presentation. What do you want them to do? How do you want them to think differently? What do you want them to remember? This will become your Key Message. See this post for more guidance A Simple and Concrete Key Message.

Then structure the flow of your presentation around what your audience will want to know – see Answer your audience’s questions.

The Lifehack post recommends writing a script. I don’t recommend this. Here’s why:

  • Unless you’re a skilled dialogue-writer you’ll find it difficult to write your script in conversational language. And conversational language is what works best in a presentation.
  • Once you’ve written a script, you may find it hard to keep from reading it. Reading to your audience is an effective way to put them to sleep.
  • You may think that you can memorise it – what that means is that you’ll end up “reading” from the script in your head. You’ll still sound artificial and stilted. And you’ll be focusing on remembering what comes next rather than focusing on getting your ideas across to your audience.

Presenting is about communicating ideas – not exact words and sentences. So instead of a script create a set of notes for yourself. Your notes don’t say what you want to say – they remind you of what you want to say. For more guidance on creating notes, see this post The lost art of notes. Then you can focus on connecting with your audience.

Once you’ve created the structure and flow of your presentation, you can start creating slides. There are many different creative ways of creating slides. In this post, I’ll take you through a quick and easy way to use when you’re short of time.

2. Put one statement on each slide

Take each main point of your presentation and express it as a short and succinct statement. Put each statement on one slide.

That’s the only text you put on the slide. The Lifehack post says ‘No paragraphs’! I go further and say ‘No bullets’! Here’s why:

If you run out of time, these simple one-statement slides will work fine. If you’ve got time, go onto the next step.

3. Add a relevant visual to each slide

Now look at how you can add a visual element to each slide which helps back-up the point of the slide. There are four main types of visual:

  1. An image or photograph which directly represents or is a metaphor for what you’re talking about.
  2. A diagram which helps your audience understand the concept you’re describing.
  3. A graph which shows the meaning of your data.
  4. A flowchart that demonstrates the process you’re explaining.

For more description of each of these see this post on The application of visual thinking to presentations.

I agree with the Lifehack post that irrelevant, distracting images and cliched clipart shouldn’t be used. Watch out also for cliched images – the Slide:ology blog has lots of examples of these.

4. Pay attention to design

The Lifehacker post says:

Avoid the temptation to dress up your pages with cheesy effects and focus instead on simple design basics.

I agree. The key design principles are:

  • Use a simple background – decorative templates add clutter.
  • Use a sans serif font such as arial or helvetica.
  • Use text which contrasts well with the background.
  • If you’re using photos have them fill the whole screen and put your text on top of them. If necessary use a semi-transparent rectangle – a mask – behind the text to ensure that it is readable.

These two posts expand on these points:

The Lifehacker post says avoid dark backgrounds if you can to help with readability. This used to be true with older dimmer datashow projectors, but now with brighter projectors it’s not an issue unless you’re in a very light room like a conservatory or direct sunlight is hitting the screen.

5. Dance with your slides

You know not to read from your slides. But don’t go the other extreme of ignoring your slides like a wallflower at a dance. Dance with them. They are your partner in the presentation – sometimes you lead, sometimes the slide will lead. For more ideas on how to do this see my post Are you missing out on half the power of your PowerPoint slides?

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