PowerPoint Presentations Do’s and Don’ts

When PowerPoint became a tool for today’s speakers, workshop leaders, and presenters, we all rejoiced. It was the end of the slideshow era. Unfortunately, we moved from boring slideshows to boring PowerPoint presentations.

Whether you are using PowerPoint or a fancy video program, the purpose of your audio visual is to punctuate your presentation. It adds that extra something, like a bit of salt on food. It is not supposed to overpower you. You are the star of the program. What is more important, the audio visuals are not a substitute for your notes! Too often we see PowerPoint slides full of words. Those words are there to aid the speaker, not for the learning benefit of the audience.

When Benjamin Franklin said, “I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand,” he was talking about the power of the visual message along with the verbal message. Not having an inkling about slides or PowerPoint, he recognized how important it is to see as well as hear (and, of course, to do). The name PowerPoint suggests that the makers of the software intended it to add “power to your points.” How clever! So, why is it we put people to sleep with our presentations?

My answer to that question is that we depend on PowerPoint to do too much. We expect the software to remember our words, to serve as our handouts, to entertain our audience, and to prop us up when we lose focus. Speakers who abuse PowerPoint often are in “cruise control.” They are not tuned into the audience; instead, they are tuned into their slide program. They zone out and so does the audience.

PowerPoint Do’s and Don’ts

– How many slides do you need for a 30 minute presentation? The answer to this question will probably shock you. In my view, you need no more than 5. Some people go by a rule of 10 slides per 30 minutes, and I will forgive you if you have 10. But any more than 10 is too many. When I teach 3-hour workshops or even 6-hour workshops, I often have no more than 12 slides and often less.

– What do you put on the slides? A list of bullet points is boring. What are the major points you are presenting? What are the feelings behind those points? How can you show those two things on a slide? Perhaps a huge word or a photo is enough.

– Facing your slides and reading them is a huge no-no. You should never turn your back on your audience while you are talking. If you do, you lose them. They turn their attention to that slide and off of you. At that point, their eyes glaze over, and you’ve lost them.

– Do not turn off all the lights to show a PowerPoint presentation. Dim the lights close to the screen. You know the obvious reasons not to turn the lights off, right? First, the audience can’t see you! And second, they will get sleepy. People become drowsy when the lights are off no matter how entertaining you are.

– Remember to include handouts. Handouts are where you can put your detailed information, not on a PowerPoint slide. Slides are the program; handouts are the take-aways.

– Eliminate unnecessary slides. If you do a good job practicing your presentation with your PowerPoint slides, you will see which slides are necessary and which are not. Go through your presentation at least 5 times with your PowerPoint show; eliminate the slides you do not need. You don’t want to be flipping through a series of unnecessary slides during the presentation. Worse still, you don’t want a slide to pop up about something you just said. Your audience will believe you were unprepared. Practice will get you comfortable with the slides and relaxed with using your notes along with the slides.

– Have a separate set of notes for your presentation. PowerPoint gives you an opportunity to add notes to each slide. Do that in your preparation. It will help you determine what you want to say around that slide. But, once you’ve done that, develop a separate set of notes that you will carry to the presentation. The notes attached to PowerPoint are simply one step in your preparation. It’s like the sketch the artist makes before painting the landscape. He would never show those sketches to his viewers!

– Finally, use the black screen function on your computer. When you are talking about a point that is not depicted on a slide, do not show the slide. In other words, click the slide off when you are finished (another good reason to have the lights on). You do not have to have a slide for every sentence you utter.