Getting up in front of a conference room full of yawning coworkers to deliver a PowerPoint presentation is already hard enough. Subjecting your colleagues to half an hour of mind-numbing .gifs and tedious minutiae isn’t going to help, either. Remember that PowerPoint is a tool that’s experienced almost exclusively by a trapped — and probably very impatient — audience. Responses to a lackluster performance, unsurprisingly, can turn sour fast.
That’s why it’s crucial that you — the deliverer of this important, but heretofore poorly presented information — heed a bit of guidance to avoid the pitfalls of PowerPoint mediocrity. And while we can’t guarantee you that your talk’s really worth a 10 a.m. company-wide meeting, we can just about guarantee that at least people won’t walk away from your presentation muttering about the thirty minutes of life they can’t get back.
This abuse can take many forms, but it boils down to an audience not being able to comprehend the information on a slide. Most often, this is the result of simply having too much junk crammed on each slide. Graphs and slides are great-looking tools, but the ones that require six-point-font labels on each axis aren’t helping you make your point.
Either leave those complex infographics on the cutting-room floor, or give them enough space to be legible by just moving extra text to another slide.
Better still, get a co-worker to read over your slides and suggest needless graphs or words to cut. (And don’t get too defensive about editing out extra words. Nine times out of ten, it’s addition by subtraction.)
Or, “death by bullet point.” It’s the most typical, and most predictable, slide format for presenters short on interesting visuals: bulleted text under a simple headline. Over the course of a lengthy presentation, having one slide after another look exactly the same can have a hypnotic effect on an audience — a sleepy, hypnotic effect, that is.
Wake up your crowd by mixing up the slide types every once in a while. Viewers should be surprised by what’s coming next. If your presentation is heavy on text, try adding in a few slides with interesting images to break up the monotony, and use that time to field questions. Your presentation shouldn’t feel like a fifth-grade recitation. A little interaction will energize your audience and help you better make your point.
To their credit, PowerPoint’s makers have tried to help users overcome the textual monoculture of many presentations by including access to growing libraries of clip art. But then again, clip art is just that — clip art. Audiences instantly recognize that cartoon pencil icon, and they don’t like it.
At its best, clip art can be sort of cutely quaint, but at its worst (and far more often), its sends design-minded sorts into spasms. So avoid it. Public domain images are plentiful online. Try some of the free libraries of images available. Have a six-year-old in the house? Get them to draw some pictures, and then scan them in.
PowerPoint offers a seemingly endless palette of frames, backgrounds, transitions and animations to help people spice up presentations. But as with all spices, the trick lies in knowing how much is enough. Too much animation distracts from a presentation, and it feels cheap, so make sure to set some limits. Pick one or two simple animations per presentation (having bullet points appear one at a time can be useful, but remember our earlier advice about overly bulleted slides), and stick to them.
If you’re using a bunch of animation, ask yourself whether it’s really contributing anything valuable to the presentation. If the answer is no (and it probably is), axe it.
Alternately, you can go the other route and use hokey-ness to your advantage, if you do it right. Pick one slide — something buried in the middle of the presentation, at a lull — and pack it with every effect you can find, to lighten the mood. Small moments of absurdity can make a presentation memorable. (But use with caution — like maybe not in front of the CEO.)
In the end, the worst thing you can do to your audience is to leave them feeling like their time’s been wasted. And a surefire way to do that is to read out loud, word for word, every single slide. Use a bit of repetition to reinforce your main points, but limit it to the main points. Reading the slides aloud wastes the time of everyone within eye- and earshot of the screen. Remember, you’re essentially holding your audience captive. So the least you can do is deliver a snappy presentation.