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Creating Effective PowerPoint Presentations

Stop Annoying Your Audience

By Peter de Jager
TechnoScope, November 2002

In virtually any career, at some point you're going to have to stand up and give a presentation. It could be in front of management, clients, or even venture capitalists.

While speaking in front of others is hardly what one would consider a technical skill, it could nevertheless mean a great deal in advancing-or halting-your career path. As teaching how to give a great presentation is beyond the scope of available space in this article, I'll take the cheap and easy road and point out what not to do.

It's a foregone conclusion that in today's world, giving a presentation means being accompanied by Microsoft PowerPoint. With that assumption in place, here are six pieces of advice.

"I know you can't read this, but . . ."

I'll lay even money that 9 out of 10 presenters will, sometime during their presentation, put up a slide so incredibly complex, detailed, and convoluted that it is impossible to see, never mind decipher. As the presenter places this marvelous creation in front of you, he will say, "I know you can't read this, but . . ."

Well, if you know we can't read it, why are you showing it to us? This is, hands down, the number one biggest mistake that a speaker can make.

Suggestion: Don't put up slides you know people can't read.

You, not PowerPoint, are the presenter.

Instead of placing the bulk of your content on the slides, leave it for your presentation, and use the slides merely as reminders. Slides are most effective when used to present graphical information, not to convey passion and enthusiasm for your subject.

Suggestion: To find out if your slides are "too heavy," practice your presentation without using them.

The audience isn't illiterate.

Here's a hint: Your audience can read your slide faster than you can read it aloud. By the time you read the first sentence, they've read the entire slide and are bored to tears waiting for you to catch up.

Suggestion: Avoid deliberately boring your audience members.

Can they read it in the back?

Nobody can read 12-point type from the back of the room. If audience members cannot read your slides, you're not communicating-you're annoying them.

Suggestion: Use nothing smaller than 24-point type for your slides; 30-point is even better.

Can they read it anywhere?

There's a very good reason why ink is black and paper is white: The high contrast between the two makes it easy to read the printed word. This isn't news, but far too many presenters have forgotten this bit of wisdom.

Suggestion: Don't use yellow text on a white background or black text on a dark blue background.

You have a finite amount of time-use it wisely.

Look, I know we're all geniuses, and we all have enough expertise to fill 20 educational sessions. Well, tough. You've got 45 minutes. Adjust accordingly, choose the most important pieces from everything you know, and make the presentation flow for 45 minutes.

Suggestion: Don't take more than your allotted time-I'm up next!

Peter de Jager, a keynote speaker and writer specializing in the issues of change, technology, and the future, is based in Brampton, Ontario.
Reprinted with permission, copyright March 2003, American Society of Association Executives, Washington, D.C.