Celebrating its 20-year year anniversary in 2007, Microsoft's PowerPoint has brought two decades of engorged meetings, audio-visual hassles and bored boardrooms. It didn't have to be this way... and it doesn't have to in your next meeting.
A few tweaks here and there can make the difference between a presentation that sings and one that sets them snoozing.
1. Create an outline. Making a list of topics you need to address and rank them into primary and secondary importance. If time is short, you’ll know what to cut out. It also clarifies your ideas. "An outline helps you focus first on your content and how it’s organized," says PowerPoint expert Ellen Finkelstein, author of "How to Do Everything With PowerPoint 2003." "After all, isn’t what you’re saying more important than how you say it?"
2. No star wipes. Microsoft has given users dozens of ways to transfer from one slide to the next, with each new iteration offering more bells and whistles. Avoid the temptation. "Just because PowerPoint has some really cool transitions doesn’t mean they should be used," recommends Kevin Lerner, of the Presentation Team, a consulting firm that advises clients on making presentations. “Most of the time, a simple wipe or dissolve will suffice. Also, it’s good to make the transitions consistent throughout your entire presentation."
3. Choose your colors wisely. Using color can help convey meanings, make phrases stand out, and influence attitudes. All of that information you learned in elementary school about primary colors and complimentary colors can be useful in PowerPoint. Microsoft has some predefined color schemes in PowerPoint and they may be a good place to start. Microsoft also suggests that certain combinations of text color on background colors work best: green on purple, violet on yellow, white on black or blue-green on red. In graphics, try to choose one or more colors from the graphic to use in text, as well. It helps tie the presentation together. Finkelstein suggests using mid-range backgrounds and avoiding white or yellow text, which can be harsh on the eyes.
4. Use bullet points. It might seem to go without saying, but aside from direct quotes, the audience shouldn’t be reading whole paragraphs on a PowerPoint slide. That would be a real yawner.
5. More charts and diagrams, please. Pictures speak 1,000 words, the old saying goes. That’s why you want to sprinkle a variety of graphics into your presentation. An organizational chart can illustrate anything from a company’s chain of command to the families, genera and species of an order of biological organisms, according to Microsoft. For charts, PowerPoint also comes with ready-made cycles, radials, pyramids, Venns or target diagrams that you can customize to fit your pitch.
6. Be careful with sound and video. Audio and visual effects, particularly video, can slow down and even crash the computer during the presentation. Generally, the simpler the presentation, the less chance of crashing. If possible, test run the presentation on the actual computer you'll be using.
7. Practice your presentation. Presentations often don’t work because speakers don’t take them as seriously as traditional presentations. Practice it as you would a regular speech. "By stopping even twenty minutes before your [actual] deadline, or showtime, you can significantly enhance your message by taking time to practice and rehearse," Lerner says.
8. Coming to a conference room near you. PowerPoint now allows you to drop in movies, a short animated cartoon or show using Macromedia Flash. A tutorial on animation for PowerPoint on Microsoft's website.
9. Double check your grammar and spelling. Nothing is more of a turnoff to that English major in the room.
10. If you don’t actually need visuals, leave your PowerPoint at home. Only use PowerPoint when it’s necessary.