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Friday, November 26, 2010
I spent 40 years in a corporate environment. Early on I realized that making an effective presentation to a group was key to my ability to do a good job. By communicating clearly, I could provide co-workers with the information they needed to do a good job, especially on my projects, and managers with recommendations they needed to support their job, and perhaps my advancement. So I worked hard at it.
In the late 1960s, when I began my career, using transparencies with overhead projectors was the way to illustrate your points. At first, you used the transparency interactively -- you wrote on it during the presentation with a wax pencil. This "evolved" to preparing bullet lists before the presentation that would be shown on the screen. Then, in the mid-1980s, PCs came in and the production of bullet lists became "beautified." You made your lists in a word processor and printed the transparencies, all in black and white. As PCs progressed, clip art, color, different fonts, different viewpoints became possible and the transparencies got fancier and fancier. Then the overhead projectors were replaced by computer-driven projectors and computer applications to make the slides took over, allowing you to produce animated slides with color, thousands of fonts, and even sound. So the presentations began to be the focus and they got even fancier and fancier. It took a while to realize that they were also getting muddier and muddier, with the message being further subordinated to the exoticness of the presentation.
Today, and for the last 20 years, PowerPoint is the ruler of the slide-making software. You can now download complex templates to help you make any point you want in as fancy and complex manner as you want. The question is, should you want?
I came to understand late in my career that PowerPoint hurts more than it helps in making an effective presentation that your audience will remember. No less an authority than Edward Tufte makes a damning case against the way PowerPoint is usually used. But it does not have to be used this way. PowerPoint can be effective if you follow a few rules.
- People remember what you say, not what you put on the slide. Say it clearly and enthusiastically.
- A slide should have no more information on it than your audience can comprehend in less than 5 seconds.
- Use your slides for concise bullet points or simple data graphs that illustrate what you are talking about.
- Use animations sparingly. An effective use of PowerPoint animinations is to highlight the point you are currently talking about while you dim the other points.