Career Gravity by PowerPoint

Death by Presentation

Death by Presentation by Hiking Artist on Flickr

For better or worse, PowerPoint has become the de facto business communication tool. Unfortunately, there are far too few who use it well. Take it from someone who has seen his fair share of bad PowerPoint over the years.

But don’t cry for me. Instead, look on the bright side: So very many people using PowerPoint suck so terribly at it that it’s relatively easy for you to stand out! If you learn to create decent presentations, you’ll be doing your career a tremendous favor. Here’s a presentation from Guy Kawasaki that encourages begs people to buy a copy of Presentation Zen and learn the Art of PowerPoint:

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If you don’t want to buy the book or want to start with some low hanging fruit, here is a list to begin with. By the way, I feel comfortable pointing out these mistakes because I’ve made every single one of them myself!

Presentations Don’t Kill People, Bullets Do

Here’s a pop-quiz question: If you can email your presentation to someone and they can read it and understand all of the points you’re trying to make, why do you need to present it? You can do yourself and the audience a favor and save a whole lot of money and jet fuel by staying home and letting them read your presentation – otherwise known as a white paper loaded into PowerPoint – instead of sitting in an uncomfortable chair with your back to them as you read your slides like an interminable bedtime story.

Slides in a presentation should support the words you’re saying, not duplicate them. Otherwise, the audience is reading them instead of listening to you. But even worse, we comprehend information much better by hearing verbally than by reading it.

DO: Use large graphics and pictures on your slides with a word or phrase that summarizes an idea.

DON’T: Jot down all of your points using bullets or, for the love of God, use full sentences and/or paragraphs of text on your slides.

Mixed Norms

Use images to convey ideas instead of writing them out with bullets or sentences of text.

Practice Man, Practice

Failing to practice your presentation shows a lack of respect for your audience and fellow presenters. If you finish your session with too much time to spare, the audience feels ripped off. And if you run late (and don’t have moderators who are watching the clock), you take away time from your fellow presenters.

Lack of practice is another reason why presenters rely too much on bullets. Since they don’t know their own material, the bullets become a crutch and it allows them to simply read from the screen. Putting the time in to know your presentation and deliver it well shows that you respect your audience.

DO: Perform a few dry runs of your presentation so you know how long it will go and you familiarize yourself with the content.

DON’T: Show up with a presentation thrown together the night before with broken slides, misspellings and run 15 minutes over your allotted time.

Sorry, I Left My Binoculars In My Room

How many times have you heard a presenter say, “I know this text is too small to read, but…” But what? There is no acceptable way to finish that sentence. If you know people can’t read your slide why put it there in the first place?!?!

Sometimes this is a symptom of trying to squeeze too much information on one slide. Other times, it’s a problem with using colors with too little contrast. Graphs are typically the worst offenders here. If you’re going to use a chart or graph, leave out the 3D, the clip art, the background graphics and let your information tell its own story.

DO: Use large fonts with highly contrasting colors.

DON’T: Put information on the screen you know people won’t be able to see.

Left-brained professionals

Use highly contrasting colors on your graphs and choose a style and layout that will allow the data to quickly tell its story.

 Only You Can Prevent Death by PowerPoint

While I’ve highlighted my top three recommendations, Don McMillian’s Life After Death by Powerpoint 2010 does a more complete and far more entertaining job at pointing out really bad PowerPoint mistakes. Enjoy.

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