How to make an effective PowerPoint presentation

They say the medium is the message, and with PowerPoint that medium is needed to reach the people who’ve died of boredom. The same simple mistakes have turned a handy tool for arranging information into weaponized monotony. PowerPoint now enjoys the same reputation as a pit of scorpions, which is a pity, because it’s (mis)used all over the world. At least the scorpions would wake people up instead of putting them to sleep.

When you make a PowerPoint, you’re trying to make a case, not enemies. So, we’ve gathered some simple tips and tools to turn it back into the assistant it was always meant to be. Switzerland has a political party dedicated to ending the dominance of PowerPoint – that’s not something which happens to programs which are being used well.

PowerPoint presentations might not be your job, but they are likely part of it, and how you utilize PowerPoint says a lot about you — especially to your audience. Are you the sort of person who grudges their way through everything but your precisely defined tasks? Or are you someone who gets things done, makes the most of your tools, and will still have a job or client this time next year?

Don’t Read It Out

Behold this example from the World’s Worst PowerPoint presentation.

World's Worst PowerPoint Slide

World's Worst PowerPoint Slide

The single most important rule for any presentation: DON’T READ IT OUT. If it’s on the screen, then they’ve read it before you even open your mouth. Reading it out like a bedtime story will put them to sleep, as well as being a paradoxical combination of zero and an infinite information. Zero because they’ve just read what you’re saying, so it’s become boring the first time you say it. Infinite because you are communicating on endless levels that you think they’re stupid idiots who can’t read, and that you can’t even prepare your own talk without looking at the screen.

PowerPoint is meant to assist your talk: bullet points, graphs, figures and diagrams — things you talk about.

Free Templates From The Horse’s Mouth

You can tell something’s going well when they describe it as the horse’s mouth instead of the other end. Microsoft endures such an awful reputation people don’t even check “Do they give out hundreds of free PowerPoint templates?” Because they give out hundreds of free PowerPoint templates, PowerPoint themes, and everything else for every other program they make.

Free Microsoft PowerPoint Themes

Free Microsoft PowerPoint Themes

Check out their source and use your time to develop your actual content instead of fiddling with styles, backgrounds, and a whole bunch of other rubbish which isn’t really your job.

Use Presentation Mode

Lots of people make PowerPoint presentations and then use them as if they were filling a car with petrol and then pushing it: missing a simple, essential function which would make it all easier. PowerPoint has a “presentation mode” — if you connect your laptop to the projector, you can send the slides to the screen while keeping notes, clock, highlighting and slide order on your own screen. This means that you’re always armed with information that’s not visible — so even if you read it out, you look like you know it.

PowerPoint Presentation Mode

PowerPoint Presentation Mode

Laser Pointer Slide Control

Looking good is a big part of successful presentations — you could be ten dollars short of a revolutionary new mechanism for powering cars by curing cancer, but if you make your pitch in a dirty T-shirt they’ll think you need beer money. Elevate your PowerPoint presentation with a combination laser pointer/slide control. There are a whole range of handheld devices which can connect easily with USB.

Laser Pointer PowerPoint Control

Laser Pointer PowerPoint Control

You might think it’s a silly little toy, but even the smoothest domination of future market trends is crippled when you stop mid-flow to bend over and go…“Oh, wait, where’s the thingy to make the box make new slide go now?”

Air Mouse App

Air Mouse App

Air Mouse App

If you want to look even smoother (and never forget your equipment), go full Iron Man by controlling the presentation with your pocket phone. Movea’s Air Mouse uses your iPhone’s gyroscope as a 3D mouse. It’s not nearly accurate enough for drawing or real computer control, but swinging around the room to advance the slides is smooth, and guaranteed to have guests wondering “What app do they use to do that?” With the subconscious associations of “This person knows what they’re doing and I want to listen.”

Edit, Don’t Accelerate

In closing we’ll tell you how to close your PowerPoint. Wow, it’s almost like we’d planned this in advance (just like you’ll have to). Everyone who’s ever designed a PowerPoint presentation has found themselves with sixty seconds to cover fourteen slides, and in our experience every single one of the chooses the wrong option of “keep going.”

When you’re running out of time, you’re out of time. Skip slides, shorten speeches, head straight for the summary and acknowledge that you’ve left out a few things. People appreciate that. If you go right to the end, they listen to your conclusion (which is kind of important) and one slide out of the ten that was left. If you got through all ten they listen to zero, and now hate you. Going over your allotted time isn’t about doing your work properly, it betrays a blatant disrespect for other people — you’re saying you think they have nothing better to do than listen to your (now obviously) unplanned talk.

Just finish your powerpoint presentation on time, by heading to the powerful conclusion instead of the desperately hurried babbling, and your listeners will consider that truly professional.

Image credit: jsmith / iStockphoto

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