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Media Skills Training

PowerPoint - Less is More

I just finished coaching over eighty students in my role as an instructor at the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business. In their presentations this time, they were allowed to use visuals.

Most chose PowerPoint and in the one-on-one coaching appointments, I had similar comments for just about everyone, except my second-to-the-last student who did a great job of explaining how NOT to do PowerPoint in his excellent 4 minute speech.

We’ve all seen speakers bludgeon audiences with PowerPoint and other forms of slides. So I thought it might be helpful to give you a few quick tips.

Develop your content first, then create your slides. Your visuals should compliment your presentation and not be the primary source of the content you are delivering as the speaker.

Limit the text on your slides. When you put words on the screen, the implication is that you want the audience to read them. Do not put full sentences up there, unless you are quoting someone. Use key words or phrases. Your audience does not need to read every “the” “and” or verb to understand your points. Don’t make them work so hard!

Use images, photos, videos, etc. to drive your points. You know what they say about a picture. It’s true. Have mercy on your audience and give them something visually appealing.

If you have data to share, don’t show unreadable charts or graphs. Consider simplifying how the information is presented. Or highlight the essential point. Concentrate on the relevance or value to your topic. If it’s very complex, like scientific or medical data, put it in a handout or post a second slide deck on line for those people who want all the details.

Experts have different opinions about how many slides to use in a presentation. It depends on how much time you have, your audience, and your topic. Nancy Duarte, CEO of Duarte, Inc and author of the HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations has a lot great tips and strategies for visuals. I have used her very practical book as the text for my UW classes. She writes “Don’t worry about the slide count. Just make your slides count."

Please do not use a laser pointer. It is a gadget presenters and cats love, but audiences hate. And I have yet to see even the best speakers able to hold a laser pointer steady. Tell the audience where you want them to focus their attention.

And be ready to do your presentation without slides or technology. We’ve all seen it happen to speakers when the laptop doesn’t work with the venue system or some other disaster. Don’t fumble with the technology. Get there early to check out the equipment. And if it doesn’t work, go without and give the audience your best.

I would also recommend getting professional help with your slides if you have the time and resources, especially if a lot is riding on your presentation. I can personally recommend Susan Stoen and her company The Clarity Quotient. She produced several high quality, professional slide decks I use in my business.

Always put yourself in a seat with the audience. What would enhance their experience and their understanding of your presentation?

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