Paul Beaumont column: How you can avoid death by PowerPoint!

editorial image

I see lots of presentations from lots of different people and I have seen thousands in my time; most of them pretty poor to be honest.

Today’s presentation software can be a great tool if it’s used correctly but in the wrong hands it can be a dangerous distraction that interferes with the intended communication rather than facilitating it. Here are a bunch of rules for making presentations help you rather than hinder you:

Make sure that everyone will be able to read your slides. Presenters often use lots of different fonts and sizes of type to make their slides interesting – rely on your content and what you are saying to ensure it’s interesting and keep your fonts plain and your content a sensible size.

Don’t just read the slides and call this a presentation. There is nothing worse than a presenter just reading the words on their slide, switching to the next slide and then reading this. Slides should be there as aids or subject indicators and probably contain just bullet points that you can then embellish, showing your knowledge of the subject.

Don’t make your slides too busy. There are lots of different opinions about how many words there should be on a slide – in my experience opinion ranges from six words per slide upwards. I don’t subscribe to the extreme levels but I would just be sensible and say don’t show crowded material.

Use graphs, diagrams, pictures and video. Using multimedia not only provides a welcome relief to your audience but also helps to focus people on the key parts. Adding an embedded video will provide massive focus and leave a lasting memory of a key point or issue.

Avoid detailed reports. If you need to include a detailed report in your presentation, hand it out. Don’t force your audience to try to read a ledger printout (for example) on a slide.

Avoid transitions and animations. Fancy slide transitions and fly-ins get tedious quickly. The key to ensuring that your audience remember your key point is to present it to them straight forwardly so they see it and understand it. Also, please, please have your bullet points all appear at once rather than one at a time (a pet hate of mine). Also avoid sound effect as they serve no other purpose than annoying the audience and distracting them from the key points in your presentation.

Distribute a handout of the slides – but after the presentation. If you give out the handout before your audience will read ahead instead of listening. It also eliminates any surprises or drama in to your presentation.

Used properly, presentation material is very compelling and powerful but used incorrectly it is distracting, annoying and will water down your key messages.