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How To Present With Powerpoint

How many of us, listening to a PowerPoint presentation, have found our interest waning and attention wandering? Sadly, the answer is most of us who regularly see PowerPoint presentations.

Yet PowerPoint is easy to use and can be an effective way to divide information into digestible chunks and put across the key points more memorably. Here are some suggestions to help make your PowerPoint presentations more memorable.

Don't overload the presentation

The most common mistake is to include everything you want the audience to know. It is human nature. We have spent time collecting the information - of course we want to use it. Remember, the presentation is more interesting to you than to your audience, so edit ruthlessly.

Keep the word count down

The golden rule is keep the word count down. It is easy to take words out - you don't need to write in sentences and it is often best to verbalise the subjective bits - often adjectives.

For example, if the context is clear then the words "the ambitious project completion deadline is to be moved back to March" can abbreviate to "new March deadline".

The keep it simple maxim holds true for technical presentations with lots of graphs, bar charts and spider diagrams, so don't have too much data on any single chart.

Use images instead of words

Wherever possible use images. Images are easier on the audience and they help to re-focus the audience's attention on you.

12 slides are usually better than 24

There is no magic number as to how many slides you can have but as a general rule 12 slides are better than 24, and 36 is asking a lot of your audience. However, it really depends on what you have on your slides: presenting research results is very different from, say, a sales presentation.

Know your audience

Some people want the minutiae, some don't. As a rule of thumb, senior business people are famously disinterested in the fine detail - so keep to the key points. However, there will always be exceptions to the rule so it helps to know your audience.

Vary the format

Whether you are using bullet points, graphs or bar charts, too much repetition is dull so change it around a lot.

Use an appendix for the extra detail

If your presentation is doubling up as a document that must include more information than you need to present, then put the extra information in an appendix. You can have the extra information sitting at the back of your presentation so it is there at your fingertips if a tough question arises.

Make it easy to read

Your presentation should be easily read at the back of the room by the person with weaker eyesight than yourself. Use generously-large fonts and make sure there is enough colour contrast between text and background: white and yellow, for example, are difficult to read together. Play safe on this, colours that look ok on your computer screen will not necessarily be displayed as clearly through a projector.

Use easy to read fonts. We like Verdana, but Arial and Tahoma are good too. Avoid the weird ones and avoid tye that is close together like Times New Roman.

Practice makes perfect

Practise your delivery. When you are practising, speak the presentation out loud. It should sound like the spoken word and not the written word. This is particularly important if you are speaking from a conference platform where most speakers work from a written script in a formal environment where it is hard to relax.

Don't read the slide out loud

Find something new to say that isn't on the slide. Don't read the slide out loud; the audience will have read it for themselves long before you finish.

Think about the tone

Tone of voice is important and this will depend on what the presenter feels comfortable with given the audience and circumstances. Presentations are mostly improved by humour and informality - it helps the audience relax and gives them a reason to pay attention. There are exceptions and these will be obvious: delivering bad news to the boss for example.

Give your presentation a narrative quality

An important point to remember with PowerPoint is to include the cues and connecting words that link slides together. Examples of connecting words are "however", "because of this" "nevertheless". These are important. They add sense of narrative that brings continuity to your presentation, rather than it being a series of independent slides.

It is not uncommon for presenters to begin each new chart with the words "this chart shows". So dull, so forgettable. Consider, why is it that a small child can tell you the 500 or so words of the Goldilocks story while most adults struggle to recall 10 items on a grocery shopping list. It is because the Goldilocks story is broken down into digestible chunks (8 scenes) and connected by narrative.

Treat your audience as guests

Remember your presentation slides are a prop: you master, slide servant.

Do not defer to the slide. Look at your audience, not the screen. Only look at the screen briefly to remind yourself what is showing. Remember, it is a punishable sin to turn your back on the audience.

Smile at the audience. Be warm in words and body language. Make eye contact. Even if you are addressing a large room of people it is still possible to give the appearance of eye contact by looking at your audience and sweeping the room with your eyes.

Know how to use the PowerPoint program

Knowing how to use PowerPoint (or other software) to its full potential can help give your presentation more professional gloss. But be aware, too much zooming in and pirouetting out will give it a cartoon quality and detract from the seriousness of your message.