One of the editors here at Lifehack, Chris Smith, frequently writes about technology. As I was reading some of his recent articles, I was influenced to write a tech article of my own, so here it is.
So, you are sitting in a company meeting and the presenter puts up the first slide. You are probably thinking to yourself,
“Oh no, not another Powerpoint presentation – BORING!”
Unfortunately, most people who use Powerpoint, Keynote or other similar software for making slide presentations completely abuse the technology. Instead of using these programs to enhance their presentations, they end up putting their audiences to sleep instead.
I’ve been guilty of abusing this technology myself when I first started using Powerpoint as a product marketing manager. Originally, the intent was to replace the use of cumbersome overhead slides and when I realized just how easy it was to create new slides with a computer program, like everybody else, I just went crazy with it.
I’m still using Powerpoint these days in my talks and seminars but fortunately after seeing many others make the same mistakes that I did with their presentations, I took it upon myself to get some training on how to best use this tool. To help you out with your own presentations, I have identified six major mistakes that most Powerpoint users make and how you can avoid them.
1 – Text Too Small
Quite often, the text used on slides is much too small to read once projected on a screen. A good test to use is go to the back of the room where the furthest audience member would be sitting before you do your presentation. Put on the slide with the smallest sized text. If you can’t make out the text easily, then neither will any audience member sitting in the back of the room. You will have to make your text size larger (I would suggest at least 35-40 font size minimum). Also, it is a good idea to use sans-serif fonts like Arial (rather than serif fonts like Times Roman) on slides since they are easier on the eyes on a screen.
2 – Too Much Text
Another major mistake that many people make is trying to fit in too much text on any single slide. It is a nightmare for audiences when they see a slide jammed full of text. If audience members start reading all the text on such a slide, they will not be able to listen to you as the speaker at the same time. A good rule of thumb to use is have no more than four to five bullet points per slide (I often use just three points) and no more than five words per point. If you have more bullet points, divide them up on separate slides.
3 – Reading Off Each Word
A sure sign of an ineffective presenter is when he or she looks at the screen and reads off every last word up on the slides. From a presentation skills point of view, this is bad because the presenter loses eye contact with the audience. You also don’t want the audience to have to look at your backside all the time. Again, limit the number of words on each bullet point so that you can speak more naturally by expanding on what is actually on each slide.
4 – Abusing The Bells And Whistles
Another indicator of an inexperienced Powerpoint user is when too many of the fancy functions from the program are used in the presentation. This would include the use of too many different slide transitions, animations, sound effects, etc. You are not there to impress the audience with your vast knowledge of the different bells and whistles that Powerpoint has. These can get rather tiring on the audience. Keep things simple and remember that the slides are there to enhance your verbal presentation, not the other way around.
5 – Ineffective Use Of Images
It is true that a picture is worth a thousand words and images can definitely enhance your presentation. The key is to use them to illustrate major points you are making. Don’t have too many images on any single slide. I usually use just one image per slide. Make sure the image is good enough quality by testing it out on a wall or screen first. Sometimes images that look fine on your computer monitor may end up looking bad when blown up on a wall. Also, make sure any images you use are relevant to the points you are making during your presentation. Don’t just put up images for the sake of having pictures up there. There must be some obvious connection between the images you use and the points you are trying to make.
6 – Not Having Backups
Technology is technology. This means that it can fail when least expected. I’ve had to resort to using somebody else’s laptop when my own failed. It was a good thing that I had a backup copy of my Powerpoint file on a flash drive. From a speaker point of view, it is also a good idea to be able to deliver your presentation without the slides just in case of projector failure. I often bring some props to use in case I have to do a sudden version of my talk without slides and yes, I have had to do this in one or two cases.
So there you have it. If you can avoid just these six major mistakes that many presenters make out there, the effectiveness of your presentations will be increased dramatically. After you have created them, rehearse your presentations in advance with the slides, as your efforts will make you appear to be a more professional presenter in front of audiences.