Today, we’ll explore the idea of PowerPoint. While a great tool, it can also unravel your speech as well.
The first thing that I really need to emphasize is that your PowerPoint should not be a barrier to presenting. Meaning, you can’t live without it. For example, suppose your projector dies or computer crashes (not unheard of at all), you should still be able to present.
When I was interviewing at Humber College for the Professor position a few years back, they had asked me to prepare a mock lesson to present to them to evaluate. So I prepared a PowerPoint on a relevant topic and was all ready to go. When I got to the interview room, the projector wasn’t working, the tech came in and looked at it and couldn’t get it going. In retrospect, I had to wonder if that was done purposely as a test to see how I could handle it. So here is what I did; I told my interviewers (who were the Program Coordinator and Associate Dean at the time) that the projector wasn’t working but since there were only 3 of us in the room that we might as well pretend that my laptop is the projector and continue as iff we really had everything working. I also mentioned that had this been a real scenario in class, I would have improvised with the students and made more use of the whiteboard to offset the loss of visuals. They loved it and I ended up with the job. Afterwards they told me that I was the only candidate who actually used PowerPoint and made effective use of it.
Ironically, I did have classes over the years where the in class projector broke down and did have to improvise. So I can tell you that the most important thing about PowerPoint is to be ready to not use them! If your projector goes down, consider using your slides as cue cards and just accept the situation and move on.
Now assuming your projector and equipment are working, here are some tips to a successfull presentation;
1) Don’t read your slides – of course there are exceptions such as reading off a quote from a slide but if you are reading everything word for word, then why not just save yourself and everyone else time and just email the slides to everyone to read on their own time! The audience is thirsting for your take and your personal spin on your message. Your personal stories are what will make your message come to life.
2) Use a remote – fumbling or having to walk back to the podium can be a distraction, you don’t want to lose your audience. Plus, it will make your presentation flow much more naturally. I constantly joke to people that borrow my remote that they can’t lose it, its my life.
3) Use large font – PowerPoint and Microsoft Word are 2 totally different programs and therefore your standard 12 font just won’t cut it. Personally, I try and use 36 font but 32 should be the absolute minimum. As an experiment, open up PowerPoint and type in “Is this readable?” about 10 times, using font sizes from 12 all the way up to 48. See what works for you and what you like.
4) Use bullet points – save your paragraphs for articles and blog entries like this one. If you put too many words on a slide, you will lose your audience because they will be spending a great deal of time reading your paragraphs and trying to make sense of things they don’t understand. Also, you need to be the one telling the story, not the slide. So save them the headache and summarize into bullet points.
5) Use readable colour – I once sat in on a lecture of a fellow Professor whose PowerPoint slides consisted of black background on blue text. For a visual, I invite you to try it out on your own and see how you like it. It was very difficult to read. Personally, I stick to white background on black text, the standard. Plus, what if you had audience members who were colour blind? Keep the colours as simple as you can.
6) Layout your slide in an organized manner – in order to avoid confusion and distraction, you need to keep your slides consistent and simply laid out.
- Use a title slide with topic, your name and contact info.
- Use an “Outline” or table of contents slide
- Use a heading at the top of each slide to summarize what the slide is all about.
- If you’re using a picture, put your bullet points on the left and your picture on the right (people read from left to right in western civilization).
- Use a summary slide at the end.
- Use a slide for references at the very end.
7) Keep distractions to a minimum – aside from the distractions mentioned above, consider the following;
- Avoid provocative pictures or images that do more harm than good.
- If you want to use slide transitions, no more than 1 type of transition (more than one will distract).
- Avoid flickering text.
- Avoid moving images.
So there you have it, the keys to a successful PowerPoint presentation. So go out there and put the power back into PowerPoint.
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