Four Ways to Cheat Death By PowerPoint

February 21, 2011 | Laura Foley
Four Ways to Cheat Death By PowerPoint

Death by PowerPoint. We all know what it is, and many of us have experienced it.  Heck, many of us have caused it! Presentations with too much stuff on a slide, word-for-word narration by the presenter, unclear messages, meaningless graphics, distracting animation, and any number of PowerPoint blunders all contribute to Death by PowerPoint. And remember, a strong deck forms the basis of a killer Brainshark. But there is hope. 

You don’t have to be an information design expert to cheat Death by PowerPoint, but you do need to understand a few basic rules to make your presentations more engaging and informative. Using these guidelines, you’ll end up with presentations that do a much better job of educating your audience.

1. Stop using the default outline format: Right off the bat I’ve kicked the most important crutch out from under the majority of PowerPoint users! But if you want your slides to look professionally designed, the outline format is the first thing that has to go. If there’s too much text on a slide, your audience will be reading the slide and not listening to you.

Outlines are great for organizing your thoughts and establishing the order in which you want to present your main ideas, but they’re not the presentation itself. Once you’ve created an outline, the headings become your main topics and the bullets and sub-bullets become your script.

Here’s a text-heavy slide that follows the outline format. Look familiar?


Taking the first bullet point as the main idea, I redesigned the first slide in this way:


The text captures the essence of that first bullet point, and I enlarged the image to give it more impact. When this slide is on screen, the presenter would use the deleted text as his script. This kind of editing would be done for each main idea from the first slide, resulting in several more slides.

In my Brainshark "Analyze and Synthesize",  I talk about how to reduce the amount of text on a slide by picking out the main ideas and combining them to create strong messages. It will get you thinking about how less is more on a slide and how to focus on what you really want to communicate. 

2. Know Your Stuff: How many of us have watched a presenter turn toward the screen and read their slides word for word? Or seen somebody lose his place and struggle to regain momentum? Or been surprised that a particular slide is in the deck? By the time you’re in front of your audience, you should know your material cold. People come to presentations to be educated or persuaded, and that won’t happen if you don’t have a command of your subject matter. It all boils down to practice, practice, practice! You should know your presentation so well that it seems like a conversation with the audience. The same goes for creating a Brainshark — your voiceover should be clear and authoritative, not hesitant and uncertain.

3. Get Moving: Animation can make a presentation more dynamic by revealing information in the order in which you want your audience to absorb it, drawing attention to relevant details, and showing cause-and-effect relationships. But it’s important to use the right animation effects    (see this Brainshark tutorial), not just the ones you think are “cool.” Animation should never detract from the main message of the presentation.

4. Proofread: Think ewe kin get awry with spill chick? Guess again. Ideally, you should take a fresh look at your presentation the day after you’ve finished it and check each slide for spelling errors, omissions, graphics placement and positioning, and consistency. Get someone else to proofread the presentation, if possible. I reviewed a PowerPoint presentation for a friend and noticed the following on one of the slides: "Data from an October 2009 pole." The presentation had already been shown to several clients. Ouch.

 Companies often rely on PowerPoint presentations and Brainsharks as sales tools, so cheating Death by PowerPoint is very important. If you start following these rules, you’ll find that your PowerPoint presentations and Brainsharks become more focused, more informative, and more engaging. Please let me know how you do!

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