Some of us are old enough to remember presentations B.P., before PowerPoint. The first version came out in 1984 for the Apple Macintosh from Forethought, Inc. They renamed it “PowerPoint” and sold it to Microsoft in 1987 for $14M. Prior to that, we hand-lettered on clear acetate with a set of colored fine-tip markers. Since the ink was water-soluble, we hoped no one spilled something on them. Luxury was using a copier to make almost legible slides from a book or typewriter. My wife tells me Kodak had a special acetate sheet that would literally draw the ink off of a glossy magazine page onto the acetate by soaking it in tepid water. They called it “contact paper.” A common practice in education, apparently.
Then we advanced to a Kroy Tape Machine. You turned the dial to the right letter, clicked the button and presto it printed on clear sticky tape. You manually positioned the tape on paper, then copied the whole page onto the clear acetate. The next big step was to 35mm slides. You could give a rough sketch of what you wanted to the graphics team, and two weeks later you would have a draft.
Now anybody can create a really awful slide deck in a matter of hours.
Some companies use PowerPoint for all communications. There is nothing quite as bad as the weekly status report on a slide with 8-point type. There isn’t much you can do about those situations. Personally, I give myself no more than 30 seconds to rant about it, hold my nose, and get it done as quickly as possible. I realize I don’t have the right compensation package to change it.
So let’s pretend we are using PowerPoint for its original purpose: to deliver a message that causes someone to do something. These are my favorite tips I have gathered from many sources and based on my experience in giving hundreds of presentations.
- In general, minimize the use of animation or builds.
- Especially don’t use animation if you are using LiveMeeting, NetMeeting or similar conferencing software. Even builds that move or have other effects may look strange. Hint: before showing it to a real audience over a network presentation mechanism, have a colleague run through the slides with you acting as the remote audience so you can see what your audience will see.
- If you use animation or builds and give handouts, print a set and look at what PowerPoint does with those slides. Decide if you like it.
- If you want a build slide, you can always create separate slides that do the build. This allows you to determine exactly what you want to see in the handout.
- If someone else will be presenting, make sure the notes are explicit about it being a build slide and how many builds there are. If you do use builds, don’t have them automatically timed — always make the presenter click to advance to the next build. Otherwise the presenter and presentation will get out of sync.
- Hidden slides are wonderful. Leave detail slides or slides that you may need depending on where the audience wants to go in the deck, but hide them (menu “Slide Show” / “Hide”). Hidden slides show with a \ through the slide number on the thumbnail column in “View” / “Normal” mode in PowerPoint but don’t print in your handouts unless you check “Print Hidden Slides” on the “File” / “Print” window. They get skipped if you just go to the next or previous slide. But you can jump to a hidden slide by keying in the slide number and <enter> (see tip #11 below).
- Want a short printout of your deck? Use “Print / Handouts (9 per page).” This provides the images of, surprise, nine slides on each page. During the presentation, you can quickly scan to find the slide number in order to jump to a specific slide. It works better in landscape orientation, and you can set orientation, headers and footers under “Page Setup”. Remember to check “Print hidden slides” for your reference copy.
- When including a spread sheet decide how much you want to reveal. To insert a portion of a spread sheet, select the cells in Excel and “Edit” / “Copy.” In PowerPoint, you have options.
- You can just “Edit” / “Paste.” Sometimes the formatting gets mangled in this process. You can change the text in cells within PowerPoint by selecting a cell’s contents and typing in the cell. All of the formulas are gone, just the values are visible. Each cell on the PowerPoint slide becomes a text box, and standard formatting applies so you can change font, alignment within the cell, and other attributes from the “Format” menu with the cell selected.
- If you “Edit” / “Paste Special” / “Microsoft Excel Sheet Object” you get the an image of just the cells you selected, but the actual spreadsheet is embedded in the sheet. If you double click on a cell, Excel opens with the entire spread sheet, not just the cells you copied. You have all of the capabilities of Excel. Again, the sheet contents can be changed. Be careful if there are parts of the spreadsheet or formulas that you don’t want visible to someone with the PowerPoint file.
- If you “Edit” / “Paste Special” / “Picture,” PowerPoint inserts a picture of the copied cells. You can resize it, but you can’t change the picture nor are the formulas revealed to someone with PowerPoint file. I use this method for all external presentations.
- Print to PDF or use a tool to create a PDF file to create a document that can’t easily be modified. If you have scripted the presentation, and the script is not just reading the slide contents, then you can create valuable handouts by printing notes pages to a PDF file and using that as the leave-behind. PowerPoint allows you full page formatting controls with the notes page (“View” / “Master” / “Notes Master”) so you can make an attractive document with one slide and its script per page. Like with slide masters, you can add images and text as you desire. Use “View” / “Header and Footer” and the “File” / “Page Setup” window’s “Header/Footer” button to format headers and footers. To remove the line around the slide image, select the slide box and then select “No Line” in the “Line” section of the Formatting Palette.
- Ask “Why am I doing this presentation?” Then ask yourself if you answered the question. Keep in mind that most people will only remember three things from a presentation. Figure out what the top three things are and focus on getting those across. Make sure you end by specifically restating the three things. Remember the old Army training adage: tell them what you are going to say, say it, then tell them what you said.
- Simple is good. One concept per slide, a handful of bullets at most. At the end of an especially long letter, Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) said “I’m sorry this letter is so long. I didn’t have time to make it shorter.” Take the time. See my “Vague but Compelling” blog entry for additional comments on this subject.
- We have all seen slides with eight columns and twelve rows, or 24 different boxes with something inside each connected by dozens of different colored lines. If you have created such a slide, ask yourself if it is really necessary. Is it critical to get the audience to do what you want them to? If you may need it in case of a detailed question, then hide it and go to it only if necessary.
- At the beginning of the presentation, make sure you quickly make two important points:
- Identify yourself and your organization, and explain why it is worth the audience’s time to listen.
- Identify the audience and the problem, so that the audience knows that this is important to them.
- Always number the slides. This does two things: if you remember about how many slides are in the deck you will have an idea of where you are. Hint: always look to see how many slides there are in the deck before you start. It also allows someone to start a question with “Back on slide 7 you indicated ….”
- Enter a slide number using the number keys and press <enter> or <return> to jump directly to that slide. Hint: remember what slide you were on so you can jump back to it. If you aren’t using your own computer, always use the number keys above the QWERTY row instead of the num-pad. You can’t count on the num-pad always being configured as a number pad.
- Press “b” to make the screen go black, “b” again to restore the presentation. Do this whenever you are answering a question that isn’t actually answered on the screen. It forces the audience to focus on you, not the screen. Press “w” to make the screen go all white, “w” again to restore the presentation. I don’t use the “w” option unless the room is very dimly lit. Then I use “w” instead of “b” so the audience can actually see me. “B” and “W” work also.
- Put PowerPoint into slide show mode before you display to the projection screen. You really don’t want your email visible, or the names of other presentations you might have, or even necessarily the number of slides in the deck. Get off the projection screen before you get out of slide show mode. This is another use of the “b” key. Press “b”, then disconnect from the projector (physically or through alt F8 depending on your laptop), then do your clean up.
- Don’t read the slides. The audience will quickly realize they don’t need you, and especially if you have given handouts up front they will be reading ahead and then lose focus.
- If you are using a projector to display the presentation, try “View” / “Presenter Tools.” This displays thumbnails, the current slide, the current slide’s notes, the next slide, and either the current time or the elapsed time on your screen, and just the slide on the second screen or projector. This requires that you set the projector as a separate second monitor, not just a mirror of your primary monitor. Try this before the presentation so you know how to set up your computer with a projector as a second screen. The exact method varies based on OS, and the different flavors of Windows do it a little differently. If you haven’t done it before, and there is nobody nearby who has, go to PowerPoint Help and ask about “Multiple Monitors.” Usually the top entry (which may be something like “Present a Slide Show in Person”) will have a link that tells you how to set up Presenter Tools with two monitors.
The last word: There is an unbelievable amount of help available through PowerPoint “Help” / “PowerPoint Help.” You may need to be creative in what you ask, but the answer is there. Patience. There are a lot of good books on how to make effective PowerPoint presentations. I particularly like Cliff Atkinson’s Beyond Bullet Points, Microsoft Press. See also BeyondBulletPoints.com and Cliff’s blog at beyondbulletpoints.com/blog/.
Keep your sense of humor.