In graduate school, I had a professor who would recite the course's curriculum from a long, dull, seemingly never-ending PowerPoint slide deck. Ironically, it was a marketing course. The lesson I learned was how not to use PowerPoint. Most of us have endured uninteresting PowerPoint presentations that could put you to sleep faster than an Ambien.
PowerPoint presentations continue to be included in most executive conferences, professional development courses, sales presentations and speaking events. However, PowerPoint is an aid, not a crutch, and is only as effective as the presenter's public speaking skills and his or her ability to leverage its format. As Peter Norvig, Google's Director of Research once remarked: "PowerPoint doesn't kill meetings. People kill meetings. But using PowerPoint is like having a loaded AK-47 on the table: You can do very bad things with it."
So, how do you create PowerPoint presentations that will captivate your audience? The following are five tips to creating powerful and captivating PowerPoint presentations:
1) Tailor to your audience
"It is not what you say but how you say it" as the adage goes. Create interesting PowerPoint content that resonates with your audience. Use information that will be easily understood and retained. If you lose your audience, you will be ignored.
A Chief Information Officer with a major Chicago law firm noted that he uses PowerPoint at firm retreats to present the firm's complex IT governance and security policies and upcoming technology changes in a "format that our partners can easily understand." Alex & Red and The Alexander Group's electronic firm brochures are created from PowerPoint and are specifically tailored with relevant content for each client. Take the time to write informative content that speaks directly to your audience.
2) Keep content short, specific and meaningful
TAG Managing Director Jane Howze's blog on business writing is also relevant for PowerPoint presentations:
- Read what you have written out loud
- Keep your sentences short
- Write in active voice
Additionally, many executives recommend that each slide has no more than one idea, that bullet point text is in large font and each page contains no more than 15 words. Review each slide: can the slide be read in 10 seconds or less? Will the information on each slide guide your discussion?
3) Use eye-catching visuals to help tell your story
The rapid growth and popularity of Instagram, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter shows that people are attuned to visually communicating with one another. Additionally, a Forbes article states that people are more likely to retain information when it is verbally and visually communicated: "The "dual coding" theory explains why multimedia presentations are effective. The theory suggests that human recognition and recall is enhanced by the parallel processing of verbal information along with nonverbal information in the form of pictures and images. If only "one channel" is involved [verbal or visual], recall is weakened."
Your PowerPoint should be a "sketch" of your presentation and, as Managing Director Beth Ehrgott blogged in her piece on Essential Tips to Master Public Speaking, a PowerPoint presentation should emphasize your message, not replace it.
4) Prepare, rehearse and solicit feedback
When preparing for a presentation or speaking engagement, rehearse both your verbal cues and your PowerPoint cues. Ask a colleague to watch your presentation and get their honest feedback. If your marketing department is creating the PowerPoint, make sure that you receive it with enough time to practice. Does the PowerPoint reinforce your speech? Will the slide capture the audience's attention? Will your audience retain the information on the slide?
5) Learn from Inspiring Examples
There are several PowerPoint template examples online, and publicly traded companies are required to post PowerPoint presentations that company executives present to shareholders and the public - some are really good. Randy Pausch, a Carnegie Mellon Professor who passed away in 2007 from pancreatic cancer gave a now famous Last Lecture. The Lecture's accompanying PowerPoint is an excellent example of how a PowerPoint can enhance your message. In addition, Mashable compiled a list of the best PowerPoints for 2016.
Lastly, candidates please take note: as impressive as your PowerPoint skills may be, don't blow the interview by using PowerPoint in an interview.