Death by Powerpoint

In my line of work, a Powerpoint is a ubiquitous and indispensable tool. If there’s a class to be facilitated or a presentation, there’s bound to be a Powerpoint that comes right along with it. (Or for the creative, lazy, artsy type, it’s the program that resembles it.) These days, presenters are offered a slew of alternatives to Powerpoint – Keynote, Prezi, Slidedog, Emaze, Easel.ly, and a range of others, most of which are free. One would think that since its launch, Powerpoint’s billions of users would know how to use the software to make their presentations look better, yet nothing could be further from the truth. A good number of people – students, employees, participants and audiences—still get the harrowing sentence of death by powerpoint.

I should know. I’ve been on the receiving end of dull, rote presentations, as well as felony-level Powerpoint abuse. I’ve fallen victim to presenters who put too much information in their slides, distracted me with bad clipart and unreadable font, nauseated me with blinking disco-like animation and amateurish, antiquated typefaces. I felt like the presenters were just vomiting visuals and information they found on the net and chucking it at me hoping I could make sense of it.  I’m not quite sure when people started relying on graphics and stilted effects when they could have been telling me a good story instead. What I find even more annoying are people who read directly from their own presentations. It’s one of my pet peeves, and it’s right there on top somewhere. I once walked out unapologetically on a presenter right when I realized I had inadvertently signed up for a reading class. I quite pride myself on having an attention span longer than most, but I’m a busy person who does not have the time for monologues and numbing talks.

Several years back, I attended the Dale Carnegie High Impact Presentation Seminar. One of the modules was Presenting Complex Information. Prior to that, I must admit I used the Powerpoint like a drunk uses a lamppost – for support rather than illumination. I usually just bunched together a group of information that I thought the audience should know. Ironically though, I learned that what’s more important is what’s heard and not seen. Well, so much for high impact presentations then, I thought. The tide has definitely turned back. Old school has become once again new.

But for trainers such as myself who cannot do away with a Powerpoint, how do I get creative and use it in an unusual way instead of lulling my audience to sleep? Here are the things I remember from what I learned:

  1. A good story is better than a beautiful slide.
  2. Engage your audience through various senses.
  3. Don’t use Powerpoint as a crutch. Don’t write whole sentences and paragraphs; insetad stick to bullet points.
  4. Less is always more
  5. 8×8 rule: 8 words in 8 lines is the maximum limit per slide.
  6. Create a consistent look and feel.
  7. Create a focused message that you want your audience to retain.
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