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Avoid the PowerPoint Pitfalls and Other Visual Vicissitudes
By Chris King

Yes, I already have two other articles about PowerPoint on this site. And, yes, I recommend that we make use of visual aids when presenting, so that we reach those listeners who process information visually. And, yes, PowerPoint is a strong program with a plethora of useful and special features. It is also almost expected from a presenter - but, unfortunately, often with dread. This was brought to my attention this past week when attended a marketing teleseminar and the comment was made by the leader that PowerPoint is "the work of the devil."

Then, on the weekend I attended yet another technology presentation and witnessed that very "work" in action. The man who presented was knowledgeable beyond belief and had interesting and cutting edge information to share. But instead of just talking with us as an informant, he read every word of his presentation from PowerPoint slides that only possessed words - no color, no graphics and no pizzazz from him.

He might as well have handed us a copy of a report. It was a shame, because he is bright and basically interesting, and I feel that he used PowerPoint because he felt he "should." So, in this article I am going to discuss PowerPoint pitfalls and other visual tips - in my search results, I find that many visitors to the site search for visuals and visual aids.

Start by deciding what purpose your use of PowerPoint serves. Below are some considerations for using and/or not using this slick program:

  • You feel you should use the program - after all, everyone else does. My advice is to avoid using PowerPoint for this reason. Many people who travel this route, end up with a program like the one I witnessed this past weekend, because they are obviously not comfortable presenting this way.
  • You love all of the bells and whistles - and want to show off your technical savvy. Again, I warn you not to take this route. I know how tempting it is (yes, I've been there) to have the slides fly in and out in different modes, including sound and animations. Remember, however, that your listeners may be wowed (and most assuredly distracted) by what is happening up on the screen, but will miss most of what you are presenting.
  • You have so much information to impart, you feel that this is a way to get it all up in front of your audience. This approach doesn't work well either, because the slides get overloaded with words that many can't see, and the presenter's approach often ends up with him or her just reading from the slides.
  • By now, you are probably wondering when and if to ever use PowerPoint. Yes, but use it as a powerful visual tool. I suggest creating short, punchy slides with few words, striking (but not distracting) graphics, and large, easy to read fonts. These slides will serve as an outline for your presentation and move you along at a fast and ordered pace. When you show meaningful graphs that explain and graphics that make your main points memorable, you have succeeded.

Remember, you are the presenter, your PowerPoint program isn't. It should be your friend and partner, however. A trusted and useful assistant. The following tips will help you create a PowerPoint presentation that enhances - and doesn't detract - from you as the speaker:

  • Slides with a dark background and light lettering are easier to read in most lighting conditions. With overheads it was and still is the opposite (light or white background with dark lettering).
  • Sans-serif fonts are easier to read from a distance.
  • Use shadows behind the fonts and graphics to make them more prominent.
  • KISS! Keep it simple, silly! As you prepare your presentation, repeat this over and over to yourself, so you are not tempted by all of the extras. There is a wonderful program that lets you add characters to your slides. These characters speak (you can even decide what they say), make other sounds, move around and can easily upstage you and your presentation. We recently had a speaker who was showing us what these characters could do. As he took an extra few minutes to answer our questions, the character up on the screen put a nightcap on and started to snore. Talk about distracting!
  • And, always have a backup plan in case the projector and/or your program doesn't work. If you are going to use PowerPoint slides, have the program on a separate disk, just in case, and always try to arrive and set up early to make sure that everything is working the way you want it to. If you know that there will be Internet access, it doesn't hurt to have your slides up on a site, in case you need to access them that way.

What about alternative visuals? Just because everyone is expecting digital technology doesn't mean that it is the only way to go. Some of the most dynamic presentations I have experienced this past year made use of the non-digital. Following are some examples:

  • Flip charts are still useful and powerful. You can have them already prepared and use them to list important points and key phrases. Or, you can ask for feedback from the audience to be added to the flips. I suggest that you have a volunteer who can write quickly and compress the ideas sensibly help with this.
  • Transparent overheads that you write the main point on as you proceed. This is the way Brian Tracy and Zig Ziglar present and both are magnificent. Simple, straight-forward and powerful.
  • Other visuals can consist of objects that serve as metaphors (for example a boomerang - what you send out always returns) or conjure up other reactions. I have a beautiful brass tree cymbal I use often. It not only has an elegant look but a wonderful sound. It always elicits attention from my listeners.

To sum up: I am not suggesting that we shouldn't use PowerPoint. Just remember it is a tool, and only a tool. Used properly, it is your friend. Yes, visuals are important and can add an extra and memorable element to your presentations when used with planning, thought and care.



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