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Avoid Death by PowerPoint Presentations
May 2014

Although presenters can be guilty of many offenses, the worst by far is inflicting on others that barbaric atrocity known as "Death By PowerPoint." The worst offenders are those "serial killers" who roam from audience to audience, perpetrating their torture.

Perhaps a few guidelines will help you avoid being accused of such a heinous crime.

As a professional speaker, my philosophy is that you, the presenter, are the focus of the presentation. Not your PowerPoint, not your handouts, or your projector, or your wireless remote.

With that in mind, we find that everything else should supplement you as the presenter of important information.

So, we want to use PowerPoint as a tool for helping you convey your information in a way that is memorable for being clear, creative, and compelling. We also want to eliminate anything that distracts the audience in any way, or detracts from the delivery of your message.

Here, then, are my guidelines for when to use PowerPoint in a presentation. Use PowerPoint slides only to:

  1. Present graphic or complex technical information (pictures, charts, graphs, tables) that you cannot convey through text alone. For instance, a process flow chart slide in PowerPoint helps people understand graphically what you are describing verbally; it aids understanding, which is the primary reason for using a visual aid. But, as someone once said, "If it's just text, it's not graphic."

  2. Emphasize important information. If you're presenting information about how a service or product can save $250,000, using a slide with text makes sense. It reinforces your saying it, and people are more likely to remember it. (Adding a graphic is even better.)

  3. Vary the way of conveying information so that the presentation doesn't become monotonous. The focus is on us as presenters, but if we lecture for 90 minutes straight, people will get bored. That's why we use other tools to break the monotony: a flip chart, a video, a handout, an audio clip, or a slide in PowerPoint.

  4. Appeal to different learning styles. Some like to hear information, and others like to see it visually, while still others like role-plays, or hands-on experiences, etc. PowerPoint allows us to connect with those who are visual learners, even when using just text.

If you're thinking of using a slide, ask yourself if the situation falls into one of the above categories. If it doesn't, don't use a PowerPoint slide.

Problems to Avoid

Let's look now at some of the problems that cause Death By PowerPoint. (You already know the symptoms: eyes glazing over, heads nodding, people snoring.)

The first problem is too many slides! There is no correct answer to how many slides you should have, but anything even approaching a slide every three minutes is way too many slides, in most instances. Last week I did a 45-minute presentation with just 4 slides.

Here's one of my favorites: the slide has so much info on it, that a telephone-book-font is required, so that the audience can't read the slide. And yet, people always introduce these slides by saying, "I know you can't read this, but…"

If the audience can' read the slide, why use it? (This usually happens when someone just cuts a page from a document, and pastes it into a slide. Much easier than trying to figure out what's really necessary, how to present the information succinctly, and then creating the slide from scratch.)

Another problem is too much text. Even if readable, too much text usually detracts from your delivery of the message. If people are busy reading, they can't be listening to what you are saying.

Another annoyance is a slide with nothing but text. Remember, if your slide is just text, it's often not necessary. Add some graphics to make it more memorable.

On the other hand, some slides are just too glitzy, with animation going every which way, exploding sound effects startling the audience. Just because PowerPoint has a zillion animations doesn't mean you have to use every one of them. Pick a couple, and use them judiciously. Overuse is overkill.

Another problem is when the presenter reads the slides, meaning he or she continually has to look at the screen or the computer. Either way, the presenter is losing precious eye contact with the audience.

It's easier for the presenter (but not the audience!) to read the slides, rather than spending more prep time really mastering the material. If you know the material, you can use slides to jog your memory as a supplement to your presentation.

Prognosis: Masterful Presentations

Remember, the most important objective of your presentation is that the audience remembers your key points. So, follow the guidelines, avoid the problems, and your presentations will be memorable for the masterful way you delivered your message, and not for making victims of Death By PowerPoint.