Unfortunately, death by PowerPoint is alive and well.

Richard Meyer made the first studies on PowerPoint effectiveness in the early 1990s at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He discovered that students could retain information longer and could better apply what they learn if the instructor supplemented a lecture with keywords and pictures rather than just pages of straight text.

Research also indicates that the mind has limited capacity when it comes to absorbing information. Our working memory doesn’t last very long. According to some sources, 90% of what we see and hear is gone within 30 seconds. To put it simply, too much information overwhelms and the mind shuts down.

PowerPoint templates were designed with a background, a heading/title, and a place for bullets. You can’t blame people for following the PowerPoint template, but it just doesn’t support the way people learn. Seth Godin, the renowned social media marketer, says “PowerPoint is a dismal failure.”

It’s time to stop torturing people. The secret to an effective presentation is for the speaker to use slides with powerful images to reinforce their words. Because that’s how people learn. You don’t want your audience to focus their attention on reading the slides.

More is Not Better

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” ~ Leonardo da Vinci

Your presentation should not be a complete outline of your speech. Use a slide only to add value to your speech and only when it is necessary to prove a point. Slides are not to be used as cues for what the speaker is going to say. If the presenter is afraid they might leave something out, they need to have notes and practice more.

Experts say to use no more than 6 words on a slide; some even say that 6 is too many. Too often we are subjected to slides that are boring and illegible when we really want slides that are easy to read and engaging.

Your PowerPoint presentation should be designed in such a way that sharing it with the audience will not be effective since the images are only used to support what the speaker is saying. Without both the words and the images, the meaning is lost. If you want the audience to have a take-away, use a handout with all the details.

Simple Template Rules

“If the meaning is unclear, there is no meaning.” ~ Herman Cain

Just because PowerPoint comes with lots of bells and whistles, you don’t need to use them all. The most effective presentations follow these simple rules:

  • Do not use a built-in template. Everyone has seen them all. It’s a time-consuming task to create your own master slides, but in the long run it is worth it to make your slides stand apart and have a polished and fresh presentation.
  • Do not put your logo on Every. Single. Slide. People are not likely to forget who you are while you are presenting.
  • Use plenty of blank space. According to Nancy Duarte, presentation design expert, “Blank is not nothing, it’s a powerful something.”
  • Put only one point per slide. Keep in mind that the slides are there to support (not replace) the speaker.
  • The headline is the least important and unnecessary – but it is usually the biggest object on the slide – which draws our eye to it.
  • Use animation only if there is a reason, such as building on an idea. Don’t use flashy entry of text, which can be distracting.
  • Use large text. Have you ever heard someone say, “I know you can’t read this, but ….” Even if the audience is able to decipher all that text, they will be reading what’s on the slide and not listening to you.
  • Use a standard, sans-serif font such as Verdana, Tahoma, or Arial. Transferring a PowerPoint file to another computer could mean a disaster if both computers don’t have the same fonts installed. Crossover between PCs and Macs also can cause trouble. Therefore font selection is so important.
  • Avoid applying the shadow feature to text; it makes the words appear out of focus.
  • Avoid using all CAPS. It’s hard to read and our eyes are trained to quickly scan upper and lower case.

Tips for the Effective Useof Images

“A picture paints a thousand words.” ~ Chinese proverb

Words convey facts and images build emotions. The image should illustrate the words that the speaker is saying, and together they tell a story.

  • Don’t be afraid to crop parts of the image that are not important.
  • Fill the whole slide with an image and overlay the text.
  • Avoid clip art – photographs are much better and are easily available from free sites such as pixabay.com and freeimages.com.
  • Keep images similar in style throughout the presentation, especially if more than one image appears on a single slide.

Using Quotes to Make a Point

“Quotes aren’t substitutes for good content, but they can reinforce good content. You can quote me on that!” ~ Brent Dykes, the PowerPoint Ninja

  • Quotes can be used as a powerful effect to get a point across. If the quote is long, remove most of the words and highlight the most important ones using a different color, size, or style of font.
  • Choose images that visually express the emotion of the quote.
  • Add a picture of the author to illustrate the quote.
  • Use oversized quotation marks to add visual interest.

Hopefully, you have shaken off the old idea of designing slides and are ready to embrace these tips to keep your audience captivated. And remember your audience is there to hear you speak not read what you wrote. So, avoid Death by PowerPoint!

Debbie Kerr

Creative Editor, PLAN BEE » Creative Document Design, http://planbee.biz/

Debbie Kerr uses her skills to take your words and images to create a polished, professional look for your workbooks and manuals, marketing collateral, and PowerPoint presentations.