Presentations May Be 'Power'-Less

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Presentation software was a great invention but you’ve probably suffered through a presentation where the speaker thought it was a bit too great relied on it too heavily! So how do you keep from making some of the same mistakes?

We can all relate to the stories and experiences of presentations gone bad.  Immediately you have visions of attendees nodding off, sleeping, disengaged, texting, carrying on sidebar conversations and watching the clock for completion.  If nothing else, these failures give us clues regarding the pitfalls to avoid.

The majority of the problems involve a dependence on the popular software programs to carry the presentation, which was never the intent.  PowerPoint, Corel Show and others should not MAKE the presentation but rather complement and provide thought generators for the speaker and audience.  Don’t forget about what you bring to the table, that can’t be shown on a slide but the slides can take it away from you.  The balance between the presentation supporting the message and dominating it is a delicate one.

There are a number of general considerations to help you avoid the common pitfalls and make your presentation slides more effective and supportive.  These five quick tips will immediately improve your presentations and are certain to help keep your audience engaged if you use:

1. A PHOTO - Use one large image as the background of a slide - be sure the photo is simple, reinforces your topic and is not a distraction.  Overlay the text and be certain that if the image has the ability to do so, it leads the eye to the text.  Your audience will remember images better than text so let the image do some work in selling your idea or concept.

2. LESS TEXT - Text dominate slides are a sure way to disengage your audience.  Keep your slides to no more than one idea or concept per slide, with no more than 4 bullet points containing 5 words or less (ideally this would be four words or less.)  Having too much information tends to cause visual overload and will lose the audience.

3. A SIMPLE FONT -  The largest font on the slide should be used for the bullet points NOT the title and it should be “clean lined.”  After all, what are you trying to emphasize?  It's the content and the key points - not the title.  Seem difficult or contrary to your history?  Put together two identical slides but change the formatting to mirror the suggestion.  Now, flip between the two slides and notice where your attention goes.  

4.  COLOR -  Use deep contrast in color to draw attention to your text and use a clean font keeping it simple.  The psychology of color and your branding will provide clues to your advantages when presenting certain topics.  First rule of thumb is to stay away from red, because of the emergency and danger connotations.  Blue is clean and serene.  Green has financial connotations as well as being healthy and natural.

5. FEWER SLIDES – Keep the number of slides manageable.  Clicking through a slide every 5 seconds isn’t a way to keep their attention.  As a rule of thumb shoot for no more than 1 slide for every 2-3 minutes.  The rule doesn’t apply for presentations of more than 30 minutes.  Then it should be one slide for every 4-5 minutes.

Author Guy Kawaski coined the 10-20-30 rule for PowerPoint.  His concept being no more than 10 slides and 20 minutes to a presentation with no less than a 30-point font on those slides.  He does relay some valid points but the fact is, it often “just depends.”  It depends on the audience, the topic and the venue among others.  Common sense and brevity should rule here.

6.  THE BONUS – DON'T USE ANIMATION - Stop using the "fun" animation - you might be the only one entertained.  Chances are your audience has experienced them before so they won’t be impressed.  On top of that it delays the process and does nothing to enhance your presentation.  Having additional points appear one by one is necessary but you don’t need to invoke special effects to make it pop.

These tips are only meant to help with the visual side of your presentation and its resulting support of your message.  Ideally, they will be interwoven with a story that helps the audience contrast what is with what could be.  The audience can’t help but be engaged with that approach as a foundation.

Remember, less is more and it's never been more true than when putting together your PowerPoint presentation.  Despite your comfort level, you should be the memorable part of the presentation, not your slides.

David J. Fry is the President of Effective Advancement Strategies in Greensburg.

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