How to get PowerPoint right

If people employed in the events industry were asked whether they worked in ‘showbiz’, how do you think they would respond?

And, what about our delegates? Do they consider attending a conference to be the same as attending a ‘show’? Or the theatre?

It’s an interesting question. I mean, all the pieces of the showbiz puzzle are there at our events. There’s an audience. A cast of performers. There’s a stage as well as sound and lighting.

Hopefully there are also other elements present that make for a great theatrical experience … like good scriptwriting, music, passion, humour and choc tops available in the intervals.

When you add in the occasional presence of the media and celebrities, the food and the alcohol … it would seem that we DO work in showbiz!!

But then there’s PowerPoint.

Often the mood-dampener. Or the atmosphere-squasher. Bringing to our conference rooms whatever the opposites of ‘showbiz’ and ‘panache’ and 'pizazz' are.

In fact, in many cases, the only thing mildly theatrical about the use of PowerPoint at business events is that it plays the role of the Pantomime Villain. It lurks in the background, grabs attention from the story-teller, and has an increasingly-traumatised audience warning those on stage, “It’s behind you!”

I’m sure there isn’t a person reading this who hasn’t endured a ridiculously high number of painfully dull presentations supported by busy, confusing, distracting and downright boring PowerPoint slides.

We call it “Death By PowerPoint”… a quite dramatic but widely accepted notion. Interestingly, nobody ever accuses other elements of a conference of being injurious to your health. Only PowerPoint evokes that level of horror. No-one quips “Diabetes By Mentos Munching” or “Strained Hamstring By Dancing Too Vigorously To 'I Will Survive' At The Gala Dinner”.

So let me be the one to state the honest but unfashionable truth: PowerPoint doesn’t bore people. Boring presenters (who happen to misuse PowerPoint) bore people.

So, here are my 10 top tips on how to use PowerPoint to bring your presentation to life:

1. Toss the template

Yes. Yes. Yes. The conference has a theme, a logo and an overall look on all the marketing and other paraphernalia. To tie it all together a template slide has been built and sent to the presenters to use.

Ditch it.

Over the course of two days delegates could easily be staring at more than two thousand slides. A template makes them all look very similar to each other. I don’t have space here to go through the many reasons why this is bad for education. But trust me … it is.

If you want your information to stand out, you need to make it stand out. Design slides that highlight your important information … not the conference logo.

2. The number of slides doesn't matter

Many assume that, the more slides, the more tedious the PowerPoint show. As a result, they do whatever they can to minimise the number of slides in their deck.

This often leads to the presenter packing more information onto fewer slides and thinking they are making a better presentation.

‘Fraid not.

This leads to the second most-common complaint about PowerPoint presentations: “The slides had too much information on them” (the most common complaint? “The presenter just read the points that were on their slides”).

Give me a presentation with 60 great slides over one with 10 dull slides any day. In fact (and this is not an exaggeration), 10 dull slides can often be re-constructed into 60 far more interesting slides, and a much better presentation results.

How? I’m glad you asked. It makes a great segue into the next point, which is …

3. The number of words does matter

What is the ideal number of words to have on a PowerPoint slide?


PowerPoint is at its most powerful when an image or a single number is used to illustrate an entire point.

Of course, sometimes words are necessary, so keep it to as close to one per slide as possible (and certainly no more than a dozen). You provide the rest of the point verbally.

For example, if you find you have constructed a slide with six bullet points on it, turn it into six slides, each with one point on it (preferably expressed in as close to one word as possible).

The information is now being presented in easily-digestible portions. The focus of each slide is extremely clear. There are several other key reasons why this leads to better learning but I don’t have the space to detail them here.

Take it from me, if I was delivering this post via PowerPoint, I would support this current point with a slide with a big, interesting-looking zero on it.

4. Vary pace

A great book, movie and even piece of music has moments where the pace speeds up and others where it slows down. The same goes for a great PowerPoint presentation.

This has nothing to do with how quickly the actual words are spoken. It is to do with how quickly slides and information arrive and disappear.

The most-effective slides appear for either two seconds or two minutes:

– The quick slides give the notion of action, activity, energy. They can be a series of pictures that beautifully illustrate a point or even a list of key words that builds one at a time to form the contents of the next section of your presentation;
– The slower slides allow you to keep a key word, picture or graph on the screen as you elaborate and truly educate the delegates in depth. And, as I mention in points 6 and 7, it is vital that a slide that appears for a long time has no distractions on it.

5. Make your words easy to absorb

If a good slide consists of just one word, give that one word a majestic appearance.

Don't put it in 24-point Arial, Times Roman or Comic Sans… choose a font size above 70 if possible (you can select any size, not just the ones suggested in the drop-down list).

Then highlight your text and press Bold (Control+B) and Shadow (Alt+H+5)

And make your background just a single colour.

Here's some examples I found on Google Images of how One Word can be made to look more interesting and memorable:










Have you ever put up a slide with a list of bullet points on it?

The moment you do, here’s the two things that happen:
1) You begin explaining the first point
2) Most of your audience begins reading ALL the points

In other words, you are inviting delegates to not listen to you.

That’s why I love having just one word on the screen. It makes them want to …or, at least, have to … listen to you and not be distracted by anything else.

So try not to put a complete list of points on screen to start with. Build the list, one point at a time.

7. Fade the points that you've already covered

When building a list of points (as suggested above), help delegates focus on what you are currently covering by fading the points you have already discussed.

How you do this is relatively simple but a bit too wordy to clearly explain in this post. If you would like to know more, please be in touch.

8. A picture is worth a thousand words

I’ve made it clear that the use of pictures is often a better educational option than using words. I don’t need to make that point again.

What I would like to emphasise is, when using a picture, make it fill the slide (or as close as possible, being mindful of its resolution which, if it is below 600 x 400, can become quite fuzzy when enlarged).

And try not put more than one picture on the one slide. If you have four pictures that illustrate a point, you’ll be much more effective by making four slides, each with one eye-catching-ly large picture.

Find great pictures by going to Google Images and searching under whatever your point is (use as many descriptive words as possible) and add the word ‘funny’ or ‘interesting’ at the end.

My final word on pictures is, whilst a picture is worth a thousand words, generally speaking:

– A cartoon is not … it often looks like a gratuitous attempt at inserting humour … and makes you look like you’ve had to outsource your humour (although an outstanding one may be a brilliant addition), and
– Graphs and Tables are not helpful nearly as often you think. If delegates can’t see the numbers or details, don’t use them. If there’s too much information in them, don’t use them. Just use numbers (in big font) on a slide to illustrate any numerical comparison you're wanting to highlight.

9. Is that video really necessary?

About 92% of all videos shown in a presentation are not worth the effort of putting them in.

This may surprise you, but there’s two important things you should know about that statistic:

Firstly, I just made it up.

Secondly, it isn’t that far off whatever the true number is

Most videos detract from a presentation, often because they are too long for the point they are making, not overly relevant to the point the speaker is making, or simply create a myriad of potential playback problems.

I will write more on this in a future blog. Or, if I’d like to be ironic, I might do a piece to video.

10. Be animated but don't animate

One of the main menus in PowerPoint is called ‘Animations’.

Don’t use it.

There are exceptions but if you’re just bringing text to a slide, don’t have it slide, bounce, twirl, fly, pan, swivel, expand, zoom or dissolve in.

Like when the florist rubs their scissors along the ends of the bow on the wrapping of the flowers you just bought for a special someone so they coil up like cute little piggy-tails: it’s simply a pointless decoration that takes valuable time to create.

Darren Isenberg is a corporate emcee and presentation skill coach at Darren Isenberg Presents

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