PowerPoint presentations have become so ubiquitous and boring that some companies impose limits on the number of slides employees can use. That’s a mistake, says management consultant Dan Roam, because the dullest PowerPoint presentations probably have too few slides.
That’s right. PowerPoint presenters generally lose their audience because they try to cram multiple ideas or too much information onto each slide, not because there are too many of them, says Roam, author of the new book “Show and Tell: How Everybody Can Make Extraordinary Presentations.” (Portfolio, 2014)
Each slide should only contain one idea or main point, and that single idea should be conveyed using a visual with supporting text. “Never ever ever ever present a PowerPoint page that’s just bullet points with text,” Roam says. It defeats the purpose of having a speaker.
In his book, Roam discusses several types of visuals and when to use them, warning that “photos of people can really mess things up.”
Stock photos of flawless individuals “actually damage our message. The audience knows the picture isn’t ‘true’ and disconnects from us,” Roam writes.
In addition, “Staged photos of people compete with the person actually on the stage,” he continues.
During an effective presentation, all eyes are on the speaker, shifting occasionally to the slides as directed.
Whenever possible, “It always helps to create the visuals as we speak,” says Roam, adding that he’s a fan of flipcharts and white boards for this reason.
Unbeknown to most people, PowerPoint has tools “embedded right in the program” that enable presenters to draw on slides in real time during a presentation, Roam says. Many a dull PowerPoint presentation could be redeemed by using the “inking tool” as Roam calls it, to circle, underline, draw arrows or make other marks on slides to emphasize a point or show connections. Microsoft calls them Pointer Options, which include a virtual pen or highlighter. Presenters can specify the color of ink.
“Nobody knows these tools exist,” Roam says, “so when you draw on top of a slide, everyone’s eyes open wide and they think. ‘Oh my God, did that just happen?’ If you mark up a slide right in front of people they go bananas.”
He recommends creating most, but not all, of a visual prior to the presentation, and then adding the final components or flourishes in front of the audience: “In a chart, for example, leave one or two bars missing, and as you’re talking, add that last little bit.” Presenters who share their slides with attendees can create a second, completed version to hand out, he adds.
When creating images in real time, preparation is key, says Roam: “Rehearse, practice and work the bugs out in advance.”
To decide how to organize presentation content and visuals, apply a story structure with a beginning, middle and end, and create a storyboard, which is a series of drawings that function as a first draft of the slideshow, advises Nancy Duarte, whose company, Duarte Inc., creates presentations and offers workshops on presenting. A storyboard can be paper divided into panels, or a piece of paper with a sticky note representing each slide. Using sticky notes, presenters can reorganize and make sense of their thoughts by moving the notes until a solid storyline takes shape.
“Remember, content trumps visuals. Content comes first and then visuals,” says Duarte, author of the “HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations.” (Harvard Business Review Press, 2012)
Each and every slide should pass what Duarte calls a “glance test,” meaning people can take in and process the information in three seconds, and then refocus their attention on the presenter.
After all, from the presenter’s perspective, the goal is “to get what’s in my mind into yours,” Roam says. The visuals are there not to steal the show but to help the audience get the picture, so to speak.
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