“Avoid using Powerpoint whenever possible!”
That’s what any good presentation coach will presumably tell you. At least, that’s what they told me. Guess what: I can’t! In the world of marketing and communications, the tool has become a necessary evil that I (and since you’re reading this, probably you too) can’t avoid.
What you can avoid, however, is torturing your audiences with dull, uninspired slides full of text. Especially when it’s so easy to turn your presentation into at visual treat for their eyes.
So here are five simple tips to help improve your Powerpoint presentations.
It doesn’t get any easier than this. Powerpoint offers a variety of different ways to get from one slide to the next, called “transitions”. Simply choose one from the list:
The trick: subtlety counts! Instead of exploring the full set of transitions, having your slides “ripple” or “dissolve” into the next, play it cool with an easy “fade” or maybe a little “push”. Also, try to stick to one transition style throughout your presentation, rather than trying to get them all in.
Another easy one: change the format of your slides to widescreen. It looks so much more modern – and it fits much better to pretty much any screen, especially HDTV sets. Powerpoint offers both 16:9 and 16:10 ratio. I suggest choosing the first, as that’s the ratio of all standard HDTV sets.
The trick: if you don’t want to re-adjust all your pictures and graphs, do this BEFORE you compile your deck! Powerpoint will stretch content when switching slide formats, instead of keeping aspect ratio.
3. Go easy on the text
This is much harder: don’t use so much text! Of course you have a lot to tell and explain – but please do it verbally! When you present, people want to watch and listen to you, not read your presentation. So stick to just a few buzzwords or catchphrases per slide. If you need more text as a script for yourself, put it in the notes section as a backup. And if need be – read it from there (see #4 on how to do so easily).
The trick: use a larger font size. It forces you to limit your text. While there’s guidelines available to calculate the ideal font size based on the presentation display’s size, I suggest to keep it with Guy Kawasaki’s algorithm: “Find out the age of the oldest person in your audience and divide it by two. That’s your optimal font size.”
4. Use the “presenter view” while presenting
It may sound trivial, but I keep running into people who don’t even know this mode exists! So just for those guys: when you hook your computer up to the projector or display, make sure you “extend” your desktop to the additional display, not “duplicate” or “mirror” it. Powerpoint will then automatically switch to “presenter view” as soon as you start your presentation.
The trick: in presenters view, not only can you see your notes (see #3), but also which slide comes next, the time elapsed since you started and the actual time. Also, you can scan through all the slides in your presentation on your display without changing the one on the big screen. Good for skipping a slide or jumping to a certain section of the presentation quickly.
This is where it gets a little more fancy. Animations in Powerpoint can do an amazing job at making your presentation more entertaining, and even informative, without having to add more text (see #3). However, complex animations require some time to build and some skill. But by simply not throwing all of your bullet points up there as soon as the slide appears, you can add a nice flow to your presentation. This will also stop your audience from reading ahead to the last point, while you are still talking about the first.
The trick: simply highlight the first line or paragraph and select “Animations” from the menu. Like with transitions, Powerpoint offers a wide list of options. And like with transitions, my advice is to stick to simple ones, like “fade in” or “wipe”. Select the animation you like best, highlight the second line and repeat. In presentation mode, your lines will now only appear after you click. There is of course a lot more to discover about Powerpoint, especially with animations. But these five simple steps should hopefully help improve your “decks” already. And maybe next time you need to present, you will feel a lot better seeing your audience actually paying attention, instead of reading ahead and then falling asleep! And if you think the content of your presentation might be interesting for a larger audience, upload it to Slideshare! Many people still underestimate the reach of this platform.