Five Tips For PowerPoint Presentions that Don't Suck

Last week I spent hours pouring through 388 pages of Rick Altman's 2nd edition of Wy Most Powerpoint Presentations Suck: and How You Can Make Them Even Better.  I cried heavily, the sad truth revealed.  My presentations suck.  I was guilty of too much text, too many bullets, reading from my slides, bad design templates and inadequate font size.  Thank God I didn't suffer from the scourge of animation .. I've always hated Powerpoints with animation.

The book is well laid out, easy to understand and offers some remarkable tips not only for creating a winning slide presentation that maximizes the retention of the audience, but also for help with soft skills, handling nerves, public speaking, pacing the presentation, and working the room. The last section refers specifically to the technical aspect of the PowerPoint software. .. a mini software tutorial.

Five things I learned that made the $28 investment more than worth the value:

  1. Don't EVER read from the slide - Human behavior and learning experts agree that people cannot adequately listen and read at the same time.  They can do one and then the other.  But the human brain will cancel one of the two that occur simultaneously.  In a classroom setting, the audience is most likely choose to read and note-take over listening to a speaker.  Slides should have a graphic or limited wording to support the speaker's concept. 

  2. Bullet points make you stupid - Like many presenters, I created my presentation with bullet points that recapped important topics.  Those same bullet points would continue to reinforce those topics thought the presentation handouts, where the audience could take notes right next to the printed bullet points.  They love those PowerPoint handouts.  It's natural to affirm that desire and give them what they want, right?  Wrong.  As stated in point #1, the audience can't read the slide and listen to you at the same time.  This reduces the audience's retention.  Secondly, consistent polling of audiences shows people almost NEVER refer back to those presentation notes.  I now group dozens of would-be bullet points into a single concepts represented on one slide. 

  3. The shorter the presentation, the longer the preparation - This killed me.  I'm guilty, guilty, guilty of going over my allotted time, and sometimes I even have to speed through the final concepts.  It's especially difficult with the 30 to 60 minute presentations.  Going over leaves a sense of being rushed through and the audience can feel cheated feeling they didn't get all that was promised.  The book included a great quote by Mark Twain to reinforce this concept:

    If you want me to speak for an hour, I am ready today.  If you want me to speak for just a few minutes, it will take me a few weeks to prepare.

  4. There's a war against On Click - This applies to revealing points one by one on a slide.  Each click reveals the next point.  Separating the information pertaining to a concept can cause a lack of contextual understanding, that is less of the total concept is absorbed and understood.  I now use fewer slides, use one slide to denote a concept, then elaborate on the concept verbally.
  5. Never apologize - The presentation is meant to serve the audience.  It's about them.  If a graphic is bad, pull it.  If the font is too small for those in the back of a large room, enlarge it.  If the slide is ineffective or might be perceived by some as offensive, delete it.  Don't apologize for elements in your presentation.  The audience will feel cheated.
I grabbed these five  points during the surface learning, the initial skimming of the book.  There is so much more additional information and insight.  Why Most PowerPoint Presentations Suck is incredibly comprehensive, and a useful tool for any person who has to give, edit, or design presentations.  Owners will find themselves highlighting, dog-earing and bookmarking many sections.  I was never bored and enjoyed the to-the-point, sometimes humorous writing style.