The strange case of PowerPoint presentations

“There’s a little good and bad in everyone.”

- Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Surely, that’s applicable to PowerPoint presentations (PPTs) as well.

But don’t get me wrong…

Having churned many slides in my (still continuing) short but eventful career, I am a big proponent of PowerPoint presentations. I like preparing slides and absolutely love formatting them.

I am so fond of preparing PPTs that I must have had clicked on the PowerPoint icon at least 10 times (involuntarily) while writing this article.

Why do I like PPTs so much? What’s so good about them??

  • Organizing information in a structured manner: PPTs are a quick and easy way to present complex data and content. They give your idea a reality and a platform.
  • Visually appealing: Even a newbie can create a visually appealing deck with standard themes and templates.
  • Editable: The content can be modified or removed easily.
  • Gives you control: While presenting a PPT, you are your own boss. As you navigate from one slide to another, you are (or pretend to be) in total control of the situation, no matter how tense it is.
  • Act as a reference point: One can always refer to the slides/ slide notes while presenting.
  • Saves time: No explanation required for this one…

The evil part has stemmed from presenter’s inability to connect with the audience than PowerPoint’s ability to present data.

  • Bullets, bullets, and bullets: The nature of PPT is such that it forces the presenter to shorten the content into a set of bullets; however, sometimes one may not be able to do so.
  • More the merrier: PowerPoint is so easy to use that often, many of us rely heavily on it and overuse (or abuse) it. People end up preparing presentations which are either filled with images or are just plain text.
  • Longer the better: While trying to reduce complexity by breaking sections into sub-sections and sub-sub-sections, one ends up making presentations longer and often mundane.
  • Focusing on preparing the content rather than delivery: People tend to put more emphasis on preparing slides rather than mastering the content and focusing on the delivery.

My two cents

The concept of ‘death by PowerPoint’ or ‘PowerPoint poisoning’ is an everyday phenomenon. In this drama triangle, I have played the role of all three main characters- perpetrator, rescuer, and the victim. But now, you have a chance to learn from my mistakes. Here’s what I learned:

  • Prepare a template: Preparing the skeleton of your PPT is useful. One should then try to fit the content in those slides.
  • Deciding the number of slides: One well-known formula for deciding the number of slides in a PPT is 10/20/30 rule (from Guy Kawasaki) This rule says that a PowerPoint presentation should have no more than ten slides, last no more thantwenty minutes, and the font size should not be smaller than thirty. But don’t feel constrained by this rule. Decide the number of slides based on subject matter and the audience you are presenting to. The bottom line is- there should not be too few or too many slides.
  • Have a shorter deck handy for time crunch situations: Always have a shorter deck to refer to, if you have a time constraint for delivery.
  • Start with a bang: If you can find it, start the slide show with an appropriate and visually appealing picture related to the content.
  • Keep it wholesome not encyclopaedic: It is not a good idea to put everything in full sentences on a slide; there are word docs for that. But if you have to prepare text heavy slides, highlight the relevant words.
  • Use smart art more: To avoid death by bullets, use icons, tables, smart art or an infographic to make the content attractive.
  • One point, one story: Storytelling is a quintessential strategy which not only helps you grab audience’s attention but also makes your presentation unforgettable. However, remember that there is no such thing as a good story or a bad story. The only story you should tell is the one the audience can relate to.
  • Be a part of the show: Don’t be an outlier in your own presentation, be a part of it. No matter how technical the topic is, the PPT will not connect with the audience unless you are in it and reliving it with emotions.
  • Have the audience in mind: Who is your Audience? Is it a bunch of university students or physicians or marketing directors? Knowing your audience can help you decide the way to structure your story. But the mantra should be to have a clear message in the PPT.

To sum it up

Gone are those days, when PowerPoint was considered yet another software from the Microsoft suite. Now, having good PowerPoint skills is crucial for the success of one’s career. PPT’s role has evolved from presenting data and information to connect, collaborate and convince different kinds of people.

PowerPoint presentations have become synonymous with employee creativity and productivity and are believed to be the panacea of all corporate problems.

Don’t make them a bitter pill to swallow…