With Great Powerpoint Comes Great Responsibility

Are you a big Powerpoint fan? Many of us are these days. The presentation tool has been around since 1987 and is said to be used by 500 million users worldwide – for the most part very badly. I have lost count of the number of badly prepared Powerpoint sessions I have endured wondering just what the point had actually been.

In the right hands, Powerpoint can enhance a presentation – adding an extra dimension, bringing clarity and helping with understanding. In the wrong hands however, this benign software package can morph into a weapon of Cluedo-esque proportions!

If you use Powerpoint it is likely that you drew a line under the learning process once you reached a certain level of proficiency, or picked up some bad habits over time. So here are some tips for using Powerpoint that may put some lead back into your Pen Mouse!

1) Don’t let Powerpoint give your presentation: Screens are an addictive distraction. If you turn one on, eyes will inevitably drift towards it. Who’s giving the presentation – you or the screen? If your audience is looking at your slides when they should be looking at you, you’ve lost out in the popularity stakes to a software package!  An easy solution – Hit ‘B’. This will black your screen out and draw those wandering eyes back to you!

Sometimes computers play tricks and inexplicably jump to slides you don’t want to go to. Sometimes your presentation requires you to rewind to an earlier slide. Two simple shortcuts – Hit ‘F5’ to take the presentation to the beginning or Alt + number to reach a specific slide.

2) Don’t be a Powerpoint bore: This is a problem so common it’s almost ubiquitous. It will often start with a speaker saying, “I’d now like to talk about X”. At this point, a list of bullet points (with notes) dances onto the screen. As the speaker begins to talk, the audience is already scanning the list and absorbing the information. So when it becomes clear the speaker is now talking through said points, the audience switches off.

3) Do Keep it simple!:  Ditch the long lists and opt for a handful of key points that can be expanded on with the context of your verbal presentation.  You should also set up your presentation so you can introduce one point at a time using the Animations feature.

4) Do beware of bells and whistles: By this I mean visual and audio enhancement, in the form of embedded videos, sound effects and funky animations that seemed like a great idea at the time (usually late at night or when you double up your prep with a spot of something fruity).  No presentation dies as quickly as one where a box annoyingly pings onto your screen announcing The format is not supported.

Video is notorious in this respect but other variables can include missing soundcards, graphics issues or unsupported software. If you must show a video or play audio, make sure you are at the venue with plenty of time to test the hardware. Download it from Youtube and convert it into an MP4.

5) Don’t forget your backup plan: The extra effort it takes to have one is worth it. It could save you from one of the worst hours of your life. Make sure you have a back up copy of your presentation – on a second memory stick or in the cloud (preferably both).

Remember this. For every good Powerpoint presentation, there are thousands of awful ones. If you can be the exception, rather than the rule, your message will come across loud and clear, and what’s more your audience will appreciate being spared another excruciating Powerpoint performance!  You could even be brave and speak without slides – but that’s for another day!

Luan de Burgh

March 2018

Luan de Burgh is a speaker, writer and founder of de Burgh Training – a specialist business communication training provider dedicated to helping people perform at their highest potential.