10 Tips to Make Your PowerPoint Presentation More Bearable

Last Updated Aug 19, 2009 12:11 PM EDT

It is 25 years ago since PowerPoint first inflicted itself on the world. Whether the world is a better place as a result is open to debate. In the last 25 years we have discovered plenty of ways to use PowerPoint badly. Here are ten tips for making the most out of it.

1. Throw it away. You are much more powerful without the crutch of PowerPoint. Really important things never get discussed over PowerPoint. PowerPoint leads to one way communication, not to discussion. If you want a presentation aid, use a blank piece of paper. Drawing or writing on a blank piece of paper draws people into your magic show, and encourages interaction rather than passive listening and surreptitious texting. You should be the star of the show, not PowerPoint.
2. Minimise the number of slides. A presentation is not complete when you can say no more. It is complete when you can say no less. Focus on the one big message you want your audience to remember. Eliminate everything else. If you have four points per slide and 25 slides, that is 100 points you will make. The chances of people remembering them all, or the one you think is most important, are close to zero. Focus, focus, focus. A good presentation is like a diamond: it benefits from cutting.

3. Minimise the words on each page. Your audience can read faster than you can speak. The idea is to have a smart presenter and dumb slides: the presenter brings each slide to life. Hell is the smart presentation and dumb presenter: highly detailed slides which the presenter slowly reads out loud, without adding any insight. My best presentation is a series of photographs: zero words.

4. Present to the audience. No one wants to listen to a presenter who is looking at the screen and talking to his beautiful presentation, with his back to the audience.

5. Know the purpose of your presentation. What do you want to be different at the end of the presentation, and for whom? If there are many people in the room, focus on the one (or maybe two) people who you really need to persuade. Your presentation will become more focused, more dynamic.

6. Energy, enthusiasm and excitement. If you are not enthusiastic about your presentation, no one else will be. I once heard Patrick Moore, the astronomer, give a talk. I hate astronomy and loved the talk, simply because he was so enthusiastic about his topic.

7. Engage the audience. Make eye contact; encourage interaction. As you prepare your presentation you should keep on asking yourself one question: "why would person X want to listen to this?" If you are not sure why they would want to listen, then either drop the slide, or make it more relevant and engaging.

8. Cut the fancy graphics and other funky stuff. Do not let the technology get in the way of the message. The fancy technology may look cool to you; it will look juvenile to senior executives who will probably conclude that you have too much time on your hands to waste if you spend it all on fancy PowerPoint graphics.

9. Rehearse. Then rehearse some more. Then really get serious about rehearsing. The more you rehearse, the more confident you will become; the easier it will to engage the audience rather than talk to your slides and the better you will appear.

10. Start well and end well. I always have my first thirty seconds scripted in my head so that I can start well, however nervous I may feel. Most people then fall into the trap of not knowing how to finish: they just give up with "any questions?". Make sure you have a good finale which makes your main point and leaves on a high: script it as closely as you script the start.

(Pic: jm3 cc2.0)

  • Jo Owen

    Jo Owen practises what he preaches as a leader. He has worked with over 100 of the best, and a couple of the worst, organisations in the world, has built a business in Japan; started a bank (now HBOS business banking); was a partner at Accenture and brand manager at P&G. He is a serial entrepreneur whose start-ups include top 10 graduate recruiter Teach First and Start Up, which has helped over 250 ex-offenders start their own businesses. He has and has spent seven years researching leadership, strategy and organisation in tribal societies. His books include "Tribal Business School", "How to Lead and How to Manage." He is in demand as a speaker and coach on leadership and change. His websites include Tribal Business School and Leadership Partnership