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Doing the PowerPoint tango

Exec to boss: I don’t use PowerPoint because other people use it. I use PowerPoint because LOTS of other people use it.

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I use it. You use it. I’ve been to a christening where the priest used it. (Truly, I have.) But do we really need it? And if we do, are we using it correctly?

Here are some of the reasons why a lot of people use PowerPoint:

a) It’s a substitute for original thought.
b) It’s a crutch for the nervous.
c) It’s a great way to pass an afternoon.
d) It’s there.
e) It looks slick.
f) It appears to save time.

Actually, the best presentation I ever saw was devoid of P. (Let’s just call it P from now on – it saves time.) The speaker – an entertaining and knowledgeable Irishman called Barry Mahon – simply stood in front of the audience and spoke, without notes.

With nothing else to look at or be distracted by, every member of the audience focused on Barry – and on what he was saying. I suspect this was his intention.

If you are going to use P, here are a few thoughts on making it work for you (and, more importantly, your audience), rather than the other way around. First, take a clean piece of white paper and a pencil. Now…

1. State your business goal. In other words, what are you trying to achieve? Is it an order? Senior management buy-in? Behaviour change in employees?

2. Identify and research your audience. Who are they? What do you know about them. Most important of all, how much do they know about the thing you’ll be talking about? This will help you pitch your presentation at the right level.

3. Specify your objectives. What do you want your audience to know, feel and commit at the end of your presentation? Make them SMART objectives: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timed.

4. Interrogate your product, service or idea. Make sure you fully understand it—especially from your audience’s perspective.

5. Brainstorm ideas. Go for quantity not quality at this stage. You can filter them later.

6. Structure your presentation.

Now, if you must, launch P.

When using P itself, here are a few guidelines that I try to follow. You might find them helpful too.

a) Follow the six by six rule for text slides. This means a maximum of six bullet points and six words per bullet.

b) Ensure you use a point size that will be legible from the back of the room in which you’ll be presenting.

c) Eschew ALL slide transitions and intra-slide animation. These may look cool to you but they are a HUGE distraction to your audience. If overused (as most are), they turn your so-called business presentation into something akin to a ten-year-old’s school talk.

d) Keep colours to a minimum, especially when creating graphics. And use muted colours that chime with your brand. Acid-trip combos of lime-green, yellow and fuchsia do nothing for your image or the eyesight of your audience.

e) Learn how to write P-English. That means ultra-brief. Two-line slide titles or bullets are very demanding on your audience.

f) Remember, your slides are there as a cue for your audience. They are not speaker’s notes…

g) …for which, use the Notes facility in P.

h) Obvious this, but proofread your presentation, including running spell-check.

And my point is?

Used well, and creatively, PowerPoint can help you convince or inform people. But it should come last in the process, not first. I suspect that 99% of all presentations delivered this year would be at least as effective without it, with the speaker instead using 5 x 7 index cards to speak to and engaging the audience with some emotion, eye contact and good old-fashioned salesmanship.

Categories: Freelance life and Maslen on Marketing.

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