I have recently seen a number of articles on the death of PowerPoint or how terrible PowerPoint is and I just had to counter with … I love PowerPoint! PowerPoint is an amazing tool to support presenters or present insights in a more visually appealing way that a 50 page text heavy word document – if used properly.
The problem is that over the years people have used and abused PowerPoint. I have sat through more PowerPoint presentations than I care to remember where I have found myself squinting to try to make out what is on the slide or lost at what the main point of the slide is because there was so much crammed on it.
There is most definitely such as thing as death by PowerPoint and it is thanks to people not understanding how to put together great PowerPoint decks. A good presentation deck should support the presenter, telling a story, and should not be an encyclopedia of every single minor bit of information that might be vaguely relevant. A good presentation should keep the listener (not reader!) engaged throughout the presentation. At the end of the presentation the audience should have a clear idea of the main points and any action items.
I started my career at McKinsey – a company well known for their professional PowerPoints – and one of the things I got from that experience was some great training in how to do great PowerPoint presentations. In fact I would argue that that training was some of the most useful I had. Having a good understanding of PowerPoint, how it works and what it can do for you can turn this “onerous” piece of software into something valuable.
So here are a few of my top tips for PowerPoint presentation decks:
- Slides are for presenting not reading
- Minimise text, use bullets and never, ever have font size below 16
- Your slides should support your presenting – people should pay attention to what you are saying and not be distracted by trying to read the slides behind you
- Use appropriate colours – using yellow or light coloured fonts makes it hard to read your key points and will distract people as they try to read rather than listen
- Animation should support your presenting and not distract from it
- Slides should also be visually appealing
- Given point 1 your slides should look good – this means using good quality and appropriate images
- Formatting matters!
- Take the time to check that your titles and text are the same font size and aligned
- Use the same style and colour bullet points throughout
- One message per slide
- Do not overcrowd your slide (see point 1)
- It is better to have more slides that you go through quickly one point at a time than trying to cram multiple messages on one slide
- Use descriptive titles
- Your title should convey the key message for that slide (and hence the point above of one message per slide)
- Your titles should tell the story as you go through the deck
- Tell a story
- Rather than cobble slides together start with a plan – how will you start the presentation, what key points do you need to make, and what is your conclusion
- Once you have your plan start with the title for each slide and only then add the content
- Do not boil the ocean
- In line with the points above be succinct – identify the key messages (as opposed to all the messages) and present those
- If you have to show additional material – for example the client has paid for it – then add it as an appendix or hand-out
Used well PowerPoint can be very impactful – used badly it can be excruciatingly painful. Like any tool learn to use it well and think carefully before getting started, and always start with a clear plan on what you are trying to communicate. At the end of the day use PowerPoint for what it is – a tool to support you.