Microsoft PowerPoint is the software of choice for many when it comes to making a presentation before students, employees, project team members and the like. As with other similar presentation packages, it offers many useful features and functions. The downside is that in all too many presentations, the technology takes centre stage, shunting the presenter to the role of supporting act. We have all witnessed presentations that seemed designed to help us catch up on our sleep and others that were a whirlwind, “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”.
Over the years of witnessing hundreds of presentations, I have seen my fair share of yawn promoters and storms in teacups. As a professional trainer, I thought: Why not condense the most common errors that I have seen and draw some useful lessons from which we can all benefit? Here are my top seven PowerPoint annoyances and what we can learn from each of these to improve our own performance.
1. Not telling the participants the purpose of the session
You know the kind of presentation I am talking about. From one slide to the next, you have little to no idea of where the presentation is going. You wonder whether you should even have turned up. Eliminate the guessing game by letting your audience know up front the purpose of your session and how you plan to achieve it.
2. Overdosing participants with information
Novice presenters often suffer the illusion that some content is good, so more is better. With this mindset, these presenters cram as much as possible onto each slide, filling it with font sizes as small as 10 point. Help your participants avoid eye strain and to stay interested by using plenty of white space and font sizes large enough to read from the back row. Add to your slides tables, charts and other graphics that will aid understanding your message.
3. Avoiding personal interaction with the audience
Some presenters display discomfort in revealing their personalities. They hide with their backs turned toward the audience, reading each word on each slide, and avoid eye contact by burying themselves in their notes. Hearing the presenter’s words and reading them at the same time not only slows down learning, it robs the presentation of the presenter’s personality. Participants are yearning to engage with the speaker and not be simply read to. So, take time to turn off your slide show and put down your notes to make a connection with your audience. Use plenty of eye contact and generate interest with your voice and body language.
4. Showing as many slides as possible
In an effort to get through volumes of material, inexperienced presenters try to break records for showing the most number of slides in the shortest possible time. As time starts to run out, the pace of the presentation increases until each slide seems to be but a blur. To avoid giving your participants a headache, allow about five minutes per slide. If time gets short, eliminate the least important slides.
5. Distributing copies of the slides before the session
You may think it a bonus if the presenter hands you a copy of their presentation before it starts. In fact, listening to the presentation whilst trying to follow the sequence in your handout only impedes your understanding. Avoid handing out copies of the slides until after the presentation. Giving participants pen and paper before the session starts will be of more use to them as they write notes in their own words.
6. Neglecting giving out support materials
Effective slides contain the key messages only, with the presenter filling in the detail. Presenters that only handout a copy of the slides may leave many participants bewildered some days or weeks later as they try to remember what each bulleted point meant. At the appropriate time during the presentation, hand out supporting materials that will allow participants to use the information you presented after they leave. You could distribute bibliographies, instructions or diagrams, for example.
7. Using a mishmash of slide transition effects
The technology so enamors some presenters that they feel you will be a better person through experiencing every “wow” effect in the package. You find yourself reaching for the motion sickness tablets after you’ve seen the slides crash, slide, twirl, dissolve … Help your participants stay focused on the message by using just one or two slide transition effects. Remember, your audience came to see and hear you and not a special effects show.
How many bloopers did you recognize? How many have you committed? Now choose the one or two worst bloopers that you have done and commit to eradicating those in your next presentation. Once you are satisfied that you have those licked, select the next one or two practices to improve upon. Ask your participants how you are doing. In time, by focusing on your key areas for improvement, you will be regarded as a PowerPoint master.