Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Using PowerPoint: Turning a Crutch into a Powerful Ally (Part 2)

As we continue our look at the "PowerPoint problem" we'll start getting into some of the tactics that we can use to improve our presentations. Today we will look at how to reduce visual clutter in our slides and how to engage the audience more effectively by eliminating the burden of knowledge transfer.

Start with a Clean Slate
One of the best ways to make your presentations more effective is to eliminate the use of extensive headers, footers, large logos, and 72 point titles  as much as possible.  Some of the templates used by our customers (which we are often forced to work within the constraints of) leave less than sixty percent of the page free for content, this is a poor use of real estate.  One reason people give for including large logos and distracting backgrounds is if the slides are printed and circulate you are protecting intellectual property.  That's a valid argument until you consider that slides may not be the best way to communicate information in a non-interactive forum.  Being visual aids, slides may not have enough context to stand on their own without a robust "talk track" (we'll explore how you can leave something of value with your audience in the next section below).  In all other situations when you are just presenting the information, there is a very low likelihood that people forget who you are and who you work for form one slide to the next, so why waste the space? 

Still not convinced?  Consider this, Steve Jobs is often used an example of a model presenter, regardless of whether you agree with that statement, there is no mistaking that he gets his point across in amazing clarity and power.  Watch a little bit of this YouTube video of Steve Jobs introducing the MacBook Air at MacWorld 2008.  What do you notice, or rather not notice?  No logos, banners, copyright dates, nothing.  Sure this is Steve Jobs and everyone knows him and who he works for, but the same is true no matter who you are as long as you do a good introduction at the start of your presentation and close with the same information. 
Don't Make Your Audience Take Notes
An attentive and engaged audience is critical to a successful presentation.  Next time you present take a look at the audience and you may notice some people writing furiously.  When people are writing they aren't listening effectively.   Avoid this by providing printed notes that capture the key topics you are going to cover, or better yet, make them available online and provide the URL right at the start of your presentation.   This approach does a few things:
  1. It allows the audience to focus on the presentation
  2. It creates a deeper connection between the presenter and the audience by showing you value their participation by providing them the key points
  3. It eliminates the need of providing the slides which may not be the best way to communicate information outside of the presentation itself
At Doculabs, we have gradually been moving towards leaving behind topical whitepapers that delve more deeply into the content in our presentations.  This allows the audience to get a good overview of the content and also provides a lasting experience that can even be shared with those that have not attended the presentation.  You'll be surprised how much more follow-up and mind-share is created when using this approach.

In the next part of this article we will explore the next two topics:

  • A Straight Line is Not Always the Shortest Path from One Point to Another - Use hyperlinks in the presentation to provide a tight overall presentation flow and put details in the appendix where they can be accessed as needed throughout the presentation with embedded hyperlinks (something PowerPoint does very well)
  • Go Graphical - Eliminate as much text as possible, leave the text in the handouts or leave behind material, use high resolution graphics to tell the story


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