Dazzle Em With PowerPoint

It’s everywhere you look: trade shows, boardrooms, events you name it. It’s one of the most used, most important, yet least mastered of all marketing tools. And you are probably sick of seeing it by now. What am I talking about? It’s the ubiquitous and often dreaded PowerPoint presentation.

We have a love-hate relationship with PowerPoint when used well (as infrequently as that may be), it can be the consummate communication tool, assisting the seasoned entrepreneur in driving home key points and making the close. For the overwhelming majority of users, however, PowerPoint is a lethal tool, eviscerating the enthusiasm of your audience and engendering yawns, boredom and blank stares.

PowerPoint’s charm, and ultimate downfall, is in its deep and rich set of easy-to-use features. Pretty much anyone who can use a computer can create a PowerPoint presentation with little or no training which is painfully obvious to all of us who have recently sat through one. So in an effort to relieve the boredom in sales presentations, venture-capital pitches, trade-show seminars, and working meetings around the world, I hope to offer some easy and simple tips to turn dreary PowerPoint presentations everywhere into dazzling, crisp, even inspirational communication vehicles.

What is it you want your audience to think, feel, or do when you are done? Often people confuse this question with “What is it you want to say?” Believe it or not, these two questions can be mutually exclusive, so start by asking yourself how you want the audience to feel when you are done and work backwards. Another tip: Think of how you feel after presentations when audience members just want to talk at you, not to or with you; don’t do this to your audience.

Understand your audience. Who are the people in the meeting, and what is their collective experience or state of mind on the subject you are presenting? The answer to this question is critical to gauging the level of the information being presented and tailoring your message appropriately. And remember that one size does not fit all make sure the presentation is specifically tailored to the group you are giving it to.

Conduct your presentation from the front of the room. More than half of all presentations would be improved just by having the presenter in the front of the room talking to the audience with the presentation projection behind them. This keeps the audience from toggling back and forth between you and the presentation or, worse yet, staring blankly at the screen for your entire chat. The trick here is to position the laptop with the presentation in front of you so you can see the presentation and stay on course. It’s your job as the presenter to make sure you set up the room in advance, even if you are not on home turf.

Keep the layout simple. Fancy backgrounds, trims, big logos, multiple typefaces, etc., are presentation killers. They distract the audience from the point of the presentation, which is the content. Regardless of your corporate colors, my suggestion for all your presentations is to use a simple blue background, white type, and no more than four or five bullet points per page. A small company ID logo in the lower or upper corner of each page can help brand it a bit. Keep graphs, charts and pictures simple and clean with very few words and numbers.

If at any point in your presentation you have to apologize for a slide because it’s too hard to read, dump the slide. This may sound harsh and generic, but it works. And a word about all those sexy special-effects features: Just because a feature exists doesn’t mean you have to use it; fades, wipes, builds, sound, etc. lose ’em.

Stories have a beginning, middle and end. Why should yours be different? How many presentations have you sat through where it takes the presenter four, five, or sometimes six or more slides just to tell you what it is the presenter’s company does? Most PowerPoint presentations wander aimlessly while trying to follow some logical progression. Creating an agenda for your presentation will help organize it. But start by describing who you are, tell people why and how you do what you do, and then end your presentation with a call to action or reasonable conclusion that wraps the entire package together and makes a point. While terribly clichi, remember the adage “tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them.”

Stick to the script, stay focused, and don’t freelance. So often PowerPoint slides and what the speaker is saying seem to be from two different presentations. The slides are there to support the presentation and the speaker. Don’t drift and lose focus because it will cause your audience to do the same.

Twelve slides, one minute per slide. This is a good rule of thumb. Try to wow your audience in 15 minutes or less, then let audience members ask the questions they want answered.

Practice, edit and revise. Most presentations sound like they are being given for the first time in case you are wondering, that’s not a good thing. You don’t have to be a great speaker to give a good presentation; rehearsals are an important part of building confidence and improving delivery. It also gives you the chance to see how the presentation comes together (especially with an audience giving constructive input) and an opportunity to revise and improve your presentation prior to having your real audience in the house.

This entire presentation will be given in PowerPoint in meeting room C at 3:15 p.m. today. See you then.

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