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PowerPoint: crack cocaine for poor presenters?

PowerPoint: crack cocaine for poor presenters?

by Moyra Mackie on May 10, 2013

Have you ever sat through a presentation where the speaker whisks through forty slides in as many minutes? Where each slide is crammed full of text or endless bullet pointed lists?

It always amazes me that people who complain they have too much to do and not enough time to do it in, will waste hours sitting in on dull, unmemorable, or just plain confusing, presentations.

And amazingly, very few people complain.

Last week I wrote about  essential preparation for effective presentations.  I promised that this week I would talk about presentation delivery.

But I’ve changed my mind.

Presentations can be tough to deliver, but it’s important to accept that nerves are normal.  And nerves can let a presenter down. Let’s leave presentation delivery to another week.

There is no excuse for poor visual aids


As the title image shows, people have been using images to illustrate stories for centuries. Visuals mattered then and they matter now.

Poor design and interaction with visual aids tell me that the presenter does not care about the people listening, or respect their time.  And those listeners who do not complain or give feedback are encouraging further time-wasting and poor presentations.

So here are five essential rules to produce visual aids that support your message and help your audience:

1. Know that a picture paints a thousand words

So put the picture, not the thousand words, on the slide.

Wherever possible  use images, diagrams or charts.  Text should be limited and a minimum of font size 14.  Remove extra text and use it as your speaker’s notes or as part of post-presentation handouts.

2. Remember bullets kill people

And bullet points can do the same for your audience.

Bullet points are great  to make notes that you can easily remember, but they should not be overused on visual materials.

When you do use bullet points, they should be short and punchy. Hence the name. This means that a bullet point should be no longer than 8 to 12 words. Putting a bullet point in front of a paragraph makes it a stray bullet.  These are particularly lethal.

3. Note there is no excuse for dumping information on a slide

PowerPoint was designed to help presenters control information, which is why the software has so many fancy ways of bringing information in and out of a single slide.

If you have to include a complex visual, use animation so that you control how and when the audience sees the information.

4. Ask yourself if your audience is there to read or listen

An important question, given that many presenters throw up a slide with a thousand words on it and then start talking.

As discussed above, your slide should NOT have a thousand words on it.  If it does, your audience will be in a dilemma.  Do they try and read it and ignore you? Or do they try and block out the distracting visual and focus on you?

This is a lose-lose for you and them, so avoid “group reading” opportunities.

5. Check whether your slides work without your voice

If they do, then you have crafted an essay, not created visual aids.

Your slides should only make sense when accompanied by speakers’ notes or when delivered by a real live person.  Don’t let PowerPoint compete with you or distract from your spoken message.

And finally, as an audience member, expect more.

If you find yourself in a presentation where the speaker does not respect your time or your need for clear and compelling information, then it would be great to think that you could give feedback.

That you could inspire and encourage the confidence to let go of the addictive habit of PowerPoint and return to the ancient art of illustrating compelling stories.

I would love to hear your tales of presenting triumph as well as your horror stories about exposure to PowerPoint.

Moyra Mackie

Moyra Mackie

Moyra Mackie helps leaders and teams to work with courage, compassion and creativity. She is an executive coach and consultant and the founder of Mackie Consulting.

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