"Well, this is how we're told to do it at my company," began the objections from the woman who I knew would take more than the standard convincing. She had her PowerPoint presentation all setup. It was inside the company branded format and it included every bullet point of what she was going to say during her presentation. She had made the most common error. She was using PowerPoint as her speaker notes instead of as a tool designed to emphasize the most important takeaways from her talk.
By using your PowerPoint to emphasize visually only your strongest points, they will stick in your attendees minds long after your talk is over. A picture is worth a thousand words and can often help your audience retain just as many. You do, though, have to be selective about what you most want to stick.
It's all about engagement and retention
PowerPoint slides are not your note cards. When looking at classroom surveys and student testing results, people who use PowerPoint as their speech outline, score much lower in terms of speaker quality and engagement. Their students also score much lower in the level of information they are able to retain after the talk. It is for these two reasons that we frequently have to address the proper use of one of our industry's most common tools.
Often new presenters are concerned mainly with getting through the information more than they are with ensuring that participants are retaining the information. It's an important shift in focus for a lot of instructors as they grow in their professional skill set and it's this way of viewing the purpose of presenting that impacts how instructors create and use their slides.
What should I put on my slides?
The easiest way to decide what to include in your slide deck is to think like an old school teacher and ask yourself, "If I were to give a ten question quiz on the talk I am giving, what questions would I ask? What questions are the most important for my students to be able to answer about my talk?" There should be a generalized slide for each of these points. By doing this you are putting a metaphorical exclamation point on the screen behind you that says, "Look! This is the most important piece of what I'm saying!"
It's important that we don't fall into the outline habit when creating our PowerPoint presentations. Not every bullet point of what you are about to say should be emphasized on the screen behind you. Unless you are dealing with hard numbers in the form of graphs and charts, just the generality or main topic of what you are emphasizing should appear on the slide.
Presenting charts, graphs, and your data points with a greater impact
If you are doing anything data related, it can be an excellent use of PowerPoint to display that data in a highly visual form. Don't just type, "30 million adults in the U.S. are functionally illiterate," put up a graphic on the slide behind you which shows that area of the U.S. shaded in or some other more creative chart showing it as a percentage of the U.S. population.
The more creative and less standard the way you represent your data, the higher the impact and the greater the retention. You want the data you are selectively choosing to emphasize to stand out. You may want to use a free online tool for creating your infographics (click here to see some options for how to do this).
Keep the slides more figurative than detail-oriented
When possible, select pictures or quotes which relate to your point or convey the message through the use of emotion (humor, empathy, shock value, ...) without having to directly put those words on the slide.
Type the statement or next talking point you are wanting to emphasize in a Google image search and see what comes up. Pick out a photograph that has an emotional impact and fill the slide with it. Use a minimal amount of text to convey the topic or point you are emphasizing. If you select the right photo, you may not even need text on the slide. It can be in the background helping you emphasize the point you are making.
Note: Select photographs and not clipart. Clipart will give your presentation an amateurish and unprofessional feel.
Professional vs. amateur presentations
Keeping your background neutral or white in color creates for a more professional presentation and also makes it easier to integrate photos onto your slides. If you add the phrase "white background" into your image search, you will find photos -- that when added on top of the white background of the slide -- will look professionally placed without much additional effort. Remember to follow the photographers' rule to fill your visual area by positioning images so that they touch at least two of the sides of your frame. The larger image will look more professional and have a greater impact.
Also, make sure your font size is readable -- 14pt or larger. Remember, these are not your speaker notes. If you are reducing your font to include more and more on the slide, it's a red flag that you are using the tool incorrectly.
Passion and personality are the real tools you are using here
It is your passion, personality, and expertise that are the presentation. PowerPoint and any other visuals are great for extra emphasis but they are not the presentation itself. If your laptop dies or the technology in the room does not cooperate, the show must still go on. You should be able to give the talk with passion and purpose without any additional background tools or props.
Using PowerPoint effectively will enhance your presentation, increase your attendees' retention of the material, and increase your engagement as a speaker.
Good luck and good presenting.
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