How to avoid death by powerpoint

Bob Little shares some top tips from the experts to help you avoid the dreaded ‘death by powerpoint’

Even the dullest presentations can be transformed if presenters follow five principles:

1. Get your audience working with you.

Peter Welch, director of the European Court of Auditors in Luxembourg, starts his presentations with a puzzle. He says: “When the audience sees the graphic, it grabs their attention. It’s a better opening than a slide entitled ‘budgetary frameworks and procurement decisions’ that might send everyone to sleep. If you get the timing right, the audience solves the puzzle just as you get there.” Involving the audience at the outset encourages them to anticipate more challenges later on

2. Don’t rely on software.

PowerPoint and Keynote default settings won’t inspire an audience. See your slides’ layout or design from your audience’s perspective. Keep text on each slide to a minimum. Build your presentation around powerful images, using abstract photographs to illustrate concepts. If you’re imparting complex information, include it in a separate handout that the audience can digest later. The fewer the slides, the clearer the message. Caroline Goyder, author of ‘Gravitas: Communicate with Confidence, Influence and Authority’, says, “The cardinal sin is to think slides are your memory prompt. They’re there to illuminate ideas for the audience. Keep them as simple as possible.”

3. Take your audience on a journey.

Nancy Duarte says that a presentation should take the audience on a journey by creating dramatic tension between the status quo and a new vision. In her book ‘Resonate’ Duarte examines former Apple CEO Steve Jobs’ presentation at the 2007 iPhone launch. Jobs built anticipation by asking his audience to think about three revolutionary products: the iPod, the phone and a breakthrough internet device. He asked them to imagine how things might be if these weren’t three separate products, but one. Then he revealed the new iPhone. Duarte writes: “Jobs ends his presentation having enthusiastically moved his audience from what is to what could be.” That inspired a standing ovation.

4. Respond to the situation.

You don’t always present in isolation. When Tanya Boardman, co-founder of Catena Space, a UK technology and space-sector consultancy, was given just five minutes at the end of the second day of the UK Space Conference, she decided “to tell a lively story, with a touch of humour to wake people and take a step away from screens full of data”. It can be useful to know what your competition will say and how they’ll present.   

5. Prepare thoroughly.

Advising executives to start with a blank sheet of paper and coloured pens, Caroline Goyder says, “Don’t plan on PowerPoint. Take the time to work out your angle on the information and find a compelling frame around it.” Once you have a structure, make time to rehearse. Practise at home, and/or ask a team member to watch you rehearse your presentation at the office.

About Bob Little

Bob Little is a communications professional (a writer, editor, commentator, speaker and broadcaster) specialising in the field of corporate L&D, who works internationally.

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Whether you’re making the case to start your eLearning journey or are looking to enhance the investment you’ve already made, these are the benefits of eLearning that will deliver significant results. 

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