Power Pointers

Powerpoint in it's purest form

Hey, another post from my other life at Brodard. This one is about Powerpoint. How I hate that software. If I were to do a presentation now I’d do it with crayon drawings and give everyone milkshakes…or send an email.

We have all been there: slouched on uncomfortable office chairs, empty coffee cups punctuating the table like full stops, hearing the thrum of BlackBerrys on ‘meeting’ mode – and seeing the physical strain on colleagues’ faces as they resist the urge to check their email – and thinking: When. Will. It. Ever. End.

You would think that with the advent of PowerPoint and all the potential cleverness it promises we could somehow muster up a decent presentation. We all, sometimes, have to present ideas, concepts or information to groups of people. Sometimes the content can be boring but the beauty of a tool like PowerPoint is that it can help present that information in a digestible form. You just have to know how.

Recent research from the University of California has highlighted ‘PowerPoint Overload’ as something a lot of employees are suffering because of a glut in PowerPoint presentations. Death by a thousand bullet points, if you like. There is a common misconception that you should put no more than six lines of text on a slide. This is now thought to be too much. “Cognitive overload” is the technical termLike watching paint dry is the not so technical term.

You see, the human brain is not very good at multitasking and the brain has limited capacity for audio and visual inputs and visual inputs. If you overload this mechanism then nothing goes in, and they block each other out. I bet you’re all sat there thinking: ‘great, I just need to put in a succession of pictures of fluffy kittens and then everyone will learn about the new I.T system without even realising it.’ Well, yes…and no.

So, here is my five point plan to rejuvenate your presentations and make you employee of the month:

  1. Create visual hooks A visual hook is an image, drawing or diagram that echoes the audio. For example, if you are talking about the sales figures for the first quarter then you need to illustrate that with a pie chart. If you are talking about a new product line you are launching then you need to show a picture of the actual product. It feels patronising even writing this, like I am telling you how to tie your shoelaces, but this will transform your presentations. Really.
  2. Use off-screen notes Use this feature for in-depth information and then you can de-clutter your slides. So, if you have lot’s lots of information on the breeding patterns of domestic cats, their growth rates and care regime then you can have a slide with a picture of a fluffy kitten and then read your notes. Your audience will be mesmerised by the picture of the fluffy kitten and take in everything you are saying. Then you can print out your presentation with the off-screen notes, references and citations and look dead clever. You might even get a promotion.
  3. Don’t read what is on the slide Newsflash: if you are working for a modern, global business with offices in five continents and thousands of employees it is a strong possibility that the people you are presenting to can read. If you are going to read what is on the slide then you’re making yourself redundant and you might as well run your presentation as a slideshow, go for an early lunch and leave your audience to it.
  4. Resist the urge to add crummy animations and 3d text I have worked within the animation industry for more years I care to recount. I can animate in 2d, 3d and I can even turn my hand at stop-frame. But I have never, ever been able to make anything animate in PowerPoint and make it look good. Or even just okay. I know it’s tempting. I know it adds an element of ‘fun’ to your presentation (and we all know that people who add fun to anything are people best avoided) but promise me you won’t ever use it. Ever. Promise? That goes for text ‘effects’ as well. I mean, really, are you four years old? ? Don’t do it.
  5. Less is more If, when you open a slide, your audience utters a collective: woah… then there is too much information on the slide. Instead of sentences, put words. Instead of three bar charts, split the graphics over three slides. Also, do you want the biggest graphic design secret since seeing the arrow in the FedEx logo? Minimalistic consistency. There, I’ve said it. I have betrayed the entire design world. What designers do is pick a font size for titles, another font size for sub headings and a smaller font size for body text. Then, they keep it consistent by creating a master slide and duplicating it. Try it, it really is that easy.

This is blasphemy I hear you cry. Make my slides simpler? De-clutter? Use more images? It’ll look like I haven’t done any work. They’ll fire me.

No they won’t. Your presentations will look slicker, be more fluid and engaging and sound more professional. Your off-screen notes will show where the hard work has gone and sourcing images for 50 or 60 slides is no mean feat.

And remember: have fun.

I didn’t just say that.

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