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The Power is not the Point

Effective PowerPoint presentations.

I can't stand poorly run meetings. Too many people talking, distracted participants, the list goes on. However, there is one thing worse: a generic PowerPoint presentation. Yet just like a bad meeting, everyone still does it when it comes to their turn at the podium.

The reason why this is worse than a meeting is it's one-way communication. If it's bad there is no way for the listener to make it better. You can change the course of a meeting, but with a bad presentation it's: click on the LCD projector, dim the lights and settle in!

You should be concerned only with one thing when presenting to an audience, be it internal or external. That is "Has the audience come away from this with information that was in-line with the original point of the presentation?" If people leave your presentation armed with confusion and wonder, your presentation has failed.

Presentations do not have a problem with lack of information. Most of the time there is too much. The biggest issue is the way it's presented.

What happens when you cloud your presentation with visuals that aren't up to par? (Pictures that are taken right out of the generic clipart folder and put in to fill space. The background is the "blue/grey" with the squiggle down the side, because of it being the default background) You send the message that your presentation will be of the generic kind, so sit back and relax, you've seen it before. You lose your audience before you can present your information.

I've witnessed companies that outsource their external presentations to graphic design firms, but for internal audiences it's given to whoever is around that knows how to open the program. The message to employees is very simple: You aren't as important to us. Purchasing a CD set of backgrounds and pictures is a smart investment. I use Digital Juice and I have hundreds of themed backgrounds and thousands of photo's to choose from, most of which I've never seen in any other presentation.

Then there is the flipside: overdoing it. The overuse of technological bells and whistles in presentations is an under-rated problem. Many presenters think, "If it's new and dynamic; it will make my presentation much better." There is nothing better than a presentation that is done professionally with only limited effects.

A common mistake is the overuse of PowerPoint animations and transitions during a slideshow. I'm sure you've seen what I'm talking about; the presenter that animates each sentence so it flies in, drops down, and explodes on the screen with an accompanying sound effect. What happens after that? Do you lose track of what the presenter is saying? Forget within 3 seconds what the point was because you were so focused on the effects that you missed the content?

While the thought process behind these special effects is, "This highlights my point and emphasizes the importance," the outcome is often the opposite. People tend to get distracted by the effects. Especially with sounds, where the presenter can hear the whooshing noise, along with the few in the front of the room. The people in the middle think they heard something, but couldn't make it out and the people at the back are wondering why there is a fly somewhere in the meeting room. Laptops were not meant to project sound to fill a room, so don't use them to do that.

Want to emphasize a main point? Put it on the screen by itself and let people read it. A good rule when using PowerPoint, or any other presentation software, is to put up only your main points and use the screen as a reference. If you run through your presentation (which you must do many times) and you see a slide with more than five points, start a new slide. Your slideshow is not the presentation, it is an aid. If what you say when you expand the bullet points is useful for the audience to take away, put it in the handout. Then let them know at the beginning of your presentation that you will give out copies of the slides. Unless you want a mutiny on your hands, I don't suggest letting people take notes all through the session, then give them a handout at the end with all the points on it. Make sure you give the handouts at the end as well, unless it's crucial they follow along with them, or again you will distract your audience.

If you have a quote or a long statement that cannot be chopped up into bullet points, put it up either on the screen and allow people to read it, or read it out loud from your notes, but not both. As much as people like to think the opposite, we can only do one thing at a time. If someone is reading the screen, they are not listening to you, and vice-versa.

If only the main points are on the screen, the audience will realize the importance of them. Don't overwhelm your audience with techno-fluff. The power of technology is neither the point of your presentation, nor the strength of it. The technology should be used only sparingly or to reinforce the information you have to share. After all, your goal is to make sure they leave the room with the right information.


Scott Stratten is the President of Un-Marketing, a firm that works with business owners to help them become customer magnets. He uses proven methods of successful marketing to increase awareness and sales both within a company's current customer base and new ones. He recently appeared in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today and Fast Company and his articles have been published all over the world. Find out more about Scott at Un-Marketing .

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