Following up on my recent post on public speaking, this Tech Tip Tuesday segment will focus on using presentation software, also known as slideware, more effectively. I humbly offer my 10 Tips on making your PowerPoint presentations more powerful. Before I launch into my 10 Tips, let me first say that PowerPoint is not your only option. There are other presentation tools you can use:
- Apple Keynote
- Google Docs Presentations
- Microsoft Powerpoint
- OpenOffice.org Impress
- Zoho Show
Now that we covered a variety of tools, my first tip is to say that presentation software such as PowerPoint is just a tool. This means your focus should not be on the PowerPoint, but rather the presentation itself.
Know the essential parts of your presentation: you, your content, your audience, and your tools. Knowing and understanding the first three of these essential parts requires more than just a few tips, so let’s now focus just on the tools.
Presentations are about communicating, so presentation software really is communication software. Effective communication is about making connections, telling a story, having an emotional impact. Make a storyboard so that the software you use aids you in telling a compelling story that will support you in making meaningful connections. There are plenty of storyboarding tools as well, including basic index card.
Create slides that reinforce your words and what you want to say. Don’t create slides that contain all your words. Leave that to the ‘you’ part of your presentation.
Use effective images in combination with words. Don’t use clip art or cheesy images. Creative Commons is a great source for images. Some recommend using pictures alone with no words to really grab an audience’s attention. I prefer using some words to reinforce what I say as well. Sometimes a picture may be obvious to you, but it may not be obvious to your audience, so using some literary prompts can be helpful.
Limit the use of transitions and sound effects. This is an area where I see many people spend way too much time and energy. It is an effort to make one’s presentation interesting, engaging, and entertaining. That is not the responsibility of the tools, but again that should be left to the ‘you’ part of your presentation. If you need to add flash and gizmos to make your presentation interesting and engaging, then you need to re-evaluate your message and work on your content more.
Use color and contrast wisely. I try not to rely on the themes that come pre-packaged with the software. I have a few templates that I have created on my own and I’ve also borrowed some from others that have done appealing slides. Contrast between your background color and your font is important: dark on light or light on dark. In-between should be avoided. Using a beige font color on a light blue background will make it nearly impossible for your audience to see your slide. They will be focus more on your slide, and getting aggravated with not being able to read it, and their focus will not be on you and your message.
Same with fonts. No, don’t use colorful and contrasting fonts, but rather use fonts that are easy to read. And size does matter. Just because you can read it sitting a foot from your computer doesn’t mean that someone in row 15 of your audience can read it.
Going back to tip #4 about not putting all your words on your slide. It may be helpful to have your words someplace, though. Use note cards for that and have them with you. Most of us don’t have the luxury of a teleprompter, nor do we have photographic memories (especially when slightly nervous), so having something to cue us throughout the presentation is very helpful. Too many people use PowerPoint for that purpose. Additionally, your handouts shouldn’t be a copy of your slides, but rather material that reinforces your message, or even (gasp!) gives your audience some deeper reading for later.
Include some feedback loops through out your presentation. This can be thought-provoking questions, discuss sessions, or even instant surveys (more tools…for another time!).
There are a lot more tips to have a more powerful presentation: prepare, practice, relax, enjoy, and most of all continue the conversation after your presentation. Learn from others and learn by doing. Try new software, experiment. Talk about something you are passionate about. Don’t overuse or abuse PowerPoint. What tips do you have for making presentations better, more meaningful, and more engaging?