Reclaiming the Power of PowerPoint

January 16, 2009

PowerPoint abuse has been so widely commited, suffered, and documented by now that it’s amazing that anyone dares to create a single .ppt slide, anymore, but after experimenting with Prezi’s wonderfully fresh take on presentation software, it occurred to AxisPortals to take a moment to champion the power of PowerPoint by reviewing some best practices:

  1. Keep the number of slides to the absolute minimum.  AxisPortals has lately seen far too many presentations involving well upwards of 50-60 slides for speaking slots of of only an hour or two.  Not good!  The more slides, the greater the likelihood of a presenter simply reading from them, which is the cardinal sin because it means that the speaker is engaging neither with the audience nor with the material. 
  2. If you intend to distribute print copies of the presentation, do so only after it is over, especially if the document is lengthy (which it shouldn’t be if you’re exercising good .ppt self-discipline and keeping the overall number of slides to a minimum).  If people have the whole presentation in hand, there’s little reason to listen.  They can and will flip ahead.  They can and will simply grab the handout and leave.
  3. Conversely, if you’re using your slides truly as prompts, illustrations, and attention getting overviews, a handout with a space for notes about the real meat of the presentation–the part not captured on the slides–can be truly useful to the audience. 
  4. Approach slides creatively.  Sometimes, an embedded image or video is the best illustration of or backdrop for the point you wish to make or the argument you’re advancing.  Envisioning a slide as a counterpoint to what you will be discussing in a given portion of your presentation can also be very effective.  Resisting the urge to record every single thing you intend to say is the key, here.  Better to make a surprising list that isn’t self explanatory, and then let the presentation itself demonstrate how these are connected.  For instance, you might include a bare bones and intriguingly puzzling list such as “Airplanes, Fences, Boxers, Pom Poms, Stripes, Fossil Fuels,” and let your presentation itself make the connection apparent.  If you make the connection compellingly, then your audience will forever associate these terms with your argument.
  5. Keep priorities and directionality properly sorted out when using any slide show tool.  Remember, the slides are there to underscore your presentation in a memorable way.  You aren’t there to present the slides.  The slides are there to illustrate and support a presentation that should always transcend them.
  6. One of the most well-received presentations AxisPortals has ever delivered proceeded entirely without the carefully prepared and timed slide show meant to illustrate it.  The act of preparing the slide-show was key because it entailed rehearsing, tightening, clarifying, and polishing the whole.  The slides weren’t missed, and there’s a lesson in that.
  7. Always focus on your audience, not your slide-show.  If your slides give you another way to connect to your audience, then you’re doing it right.  You don’t need the slides, but they’ll enhance your effort.  If you’re facing your slides, reading from them, and spending most of your time reading from the projected image, then you’d be far better off ditching the PowerPoint show.
  8. PowerPoint is at its most powerful when you control it.  If it controls you, then the power is in the wrong spot.

That’s a good presentation.  In deliberately doing everything wrong, this speaker does everything right, and his point–powerfully made via PowerPoint–isn’t easily forgotten.

AxisPortals Aphorism:  Claim your power as a speaker.  Never let it slide.