How to Purge PowerPoint Pitfalls
From Your Presentations
by Jon K. Hooper, Ph.D.
Guest author for iSpeakEASY
“Oh, no, not another PowerPoint presentation!”
How many really good PowerPoint presentations have you seen? Can you count them on the fingers of one hand? While PowerPoint shows can be great, they are often dreadful! Is the problem inherent with PowerPoint or the presenter?
PowerPoint is a wonderful communication tool when used properly. Its colorful, professional-appearing images capture and hold audience attention. The shows are flexible and easily adapted to different audiences and situations. PowerPoint’s animation features can diagram relationships that would be difficult to explain with words alone. PowerPoint’s hyperlinks allow interactive presentations and its multimedia capabilities make it easy to incorporate audio and video.
The real problem is many presenters don’t know how to use PowerPoint. They know which button to push to create a specific effect, but they don’t know when it is appropriate. When a pianist plays the wrong note, you don’t blame the piano. The same axiom holds true when a speaker hits a bad note with PowerPoint.
Presenters often get caught up in PowerPoint’s whistles and whirls without considering the accompanying problems. We’ve all seen “text takeovers” where text dominated the show and “animation atrocities” where the special effects were memorable yet the main message remained a mystery.
This column is the first in a series aimed at helping enhance your PowerPoint presentations. Each edition will pinpoint one or more PowerPoint pitfalls and suggest specific ways to purge them from your presentations.
Pitfall #1: Thinking the media (i.e., PowerPoint) is the message
It’s easy to start the presentation planning process by thinking about various PowerPoint visuals and effects you’ll use in the show. Oops! In so doing, you’re skipping some important steps. You should be focused on content and your audience, not PowerPoint, at this point. PowerPoint’s whistles and whirls can’t mask poorly designed content.
To purge the pitfall:
Start by developing a communication strategy based on an audience analysis. Next, brainstorm, outline, and storyboard your key points. Finally, design and produce your visuals and visual effects.
Pitfall #2: Too Much Text
When 35-millimeter slide shows ruled the roost, adding text to slides was difficult, so photographs dominated shows. When PowerPoint became king, text-only slides became the norm because adding text was often easier than hunting down, creating, and/or incorporating digital images.
To purge the pitfall:
Visualize ideas with photos and illustrations. Use short phrases rather than complete sentences. Limit the use of bullet charts (and limit each one to five lines with six or fewer words per line). Use PowerPoint’s “animation” feature to reveal words or lines of words one at a time.
PowerPoint does not need to lead to “presentation purgatory.” Remember that PowerPoint images are just visual aids that help you present – and your audience understand – your message. You and your message are still the key ingredients of an effective presentation.
Dr. Jon Hooper has over 30 years of experience helping professionals enhance the effectiveness of their communication. He is a professor of environmental interpretation at California State University, Chico and is the owner of Verbal Victories Communication Consulting. Contact Jon at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-342-6045.
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