Recently I awoke from a long afternoon nap. Rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I looked around and realized I was in a conference room with other people.
At the other end of the room was a laptop, a projector and a screen. On the screen I saw a sleep-inducing PowerPoint that served as the teleprompter for a presenter who spoke in a monotonous, soothing and hypnotic voice.
Hoping no one noticed my return from a soporific state, I reached for my pen and tried to give the impression I was taking notes. Instead, I found myself making a list of things I hope to never again see in a PowerPoint presentation. Here’s what I came up with:
- More than six words per slide. PowerPoint should be the backdrop against which the “actor” performs. With more than six words on a slide, it’s too easy for a speaker to use it as a teleprompter and read from a prepared script.
- Cheesy images or clip art. Not every slide needs artwork. If in doubt, leave it out. Less is more, and I appreciate simplicity.
- Spreadsheets or tables. Some business people do not realize that PowerPoint and Excel are actually two different Microsoft Office products. For me, a spreadsheet projected onto a screen never works. Never.
- Fancy slide transitions. The purpose of cute transitions is simply to wake up an audience, alerting them that a new (and hopefully more interesting) slide is coming. If the presentation is designed correctly in the first place, elaborate transitions are merely distractions.
- Hyperlinks. Really? If I can’t click on them, don’t show them to me.
- Bullet points. Here’s an idea: take each bullet point and make a separate slide for each. Then move more quickly from slide to slide.
Somewhere right now, someone is preparing a PowerPoint presentation that I must endure in the coming days or weeks. If I could give that person only one bit of advice, it would be this: Please, please read Garr Reynold‘s book Presentation Zen.
The book gives practical advice on reaching an audience through simplicity and storytelling. Now in its second edition, the book is available in both paper and digital formats. I own both, so next time I’m incarcerated by another boring PowerPoint presentation, I can make good use of that time and re-read Presentation Zen on my iPad.