PowerPoint or FeeblePoint

imageNew Scientist published a fascinating interview this week with Peter Norvig, Chief Research Officer at Google.  One of his minor claims to fame is “The Gettysburg PowerPoint Presentation”.  This is a spoof PowerPoint deck showing how poorly PowerPoint is suited to some forms of communication.  You can download a copy here.

It put me in mind of some tips I have been applying in developing my new seminar, The Three Hour MBA.

  1. Your visual aids are there to aid your audience, not you.
    Design them to enhance understanding, enjoyment and memory
  2. Prepare your presentation in the right order:
    – message – what you want to convey
    – story – how you want to convey it
    – content – what needs to go in
    – visuals – to best make your content understandable, memorable and enjoyable
  3. Less is more
    use fewer slides, with less on them.  This will force the emphasis onto you, your narrative and how you deliver it
  4. If you must use text, use big letters.  I know point sizes vary, so
    – avoid fancy fonts – go for clarity
    – for most fonts, use a point size around half the age of your oldest audience member
    This will make your slides easy to read and restrict the amount of words you try and use
  5. Stunning images are memorable and create a wow factor (the latter can be good or bad)
  6. Consistency and simplicity are key
    Use the same fonts, colour palette and background on every slide
  7. Make diagrams as simple as possible (but not more so)
    These are the only reason to learn how to do complex builds and animation effects… so you can explain your diagram more clearly.  Otherwise, cut out all other animations and builds.  All they do is shout out “!look what I learned how to do”
  8. If you must put a lot of text on your slide, give your audience time to read it before you start speaking.
    My technique is to turn to the slide and read it slowly and silently to myself.  This gives my audience a cue to do the same.  When I have finished, I will know they have too (I read slowly), so I will turn back to them.  The movement cues my audience to shift their focus back to me.
  9. Bullets.  I hate bullet points.  They may be better on a slide than lots of text, but are still on most presenters’ slides to remind them what to say.  Here’s a challenge: do away with them!
  10. Never, never, never use a PowerPoint deck to brief for an important and complex decision.
    It is the wrong medium.  It encourages simplification (which is inappropriate) and discourages questioning (which is inexcusable).
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About Mike Clayton

Mike is an author and speaker, specialising in personal effectiveness, project management and the management of change. When we try to make change work for us, things don't always go as planned: Shift happens! Over the years, Mike has developed personal and professional strategies to anticipate and deal with shift. You can contact Mike at mike@mikeclayton.co.uk
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2 Responses to PowerPoint or FeeblePoint

  1. Alan Barker says:

    Excellent advice on using slides. #1 is surely the most important of all.

    I heard something recently that builds on your point #7: it’s the idea that a slide should always be incomplete. It should never be self-explanatory. The speaker should always have to add something before the audience can understand the slide.

    The obvious and boring example would be revealing a list of points: don’t reveal the whole list at once but reveal each one as you come to it. But we could apply the principle in more interesting ways. A diagram that builds up, piece by piece, for example, creates the kind of curiosity that holds your audience’s attention. We could show a picture and then explain its significance. The tension could be in the apparent irrelevance of the picture. Pictures as metaphors: I saw an excellent presentation recently from an accounting practitioner seeking to create partnerships with academics, in which every slide was a picture of a different type of bridge.

    This approach to designing slides – producing a kind of tension in the audience’s mind that the presenter then resolves – is pretty well the opposite of most current practice, which tends to create a slideshow with accompanying voiceover.

  2. Jackie says:

    I heard about an experiment when audience recall from a PowerPoint presentation was tested two days later. The best results were from those people who were left to read the slides quietly, with no commentary. Second best were people who listened to the content read aloud (with no slides). The worst results were from people who saw the slides AND heard them read at the same time.

    Conclusion: The brain reads more quickly than the spoken word. If slides are read aloud, the brain gets the same message at two different speeds, causing confusion and lack of retention.

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