When used with care and attention, PowerPoint can be an effective tool that helps you engage with the audience and bring your delivery to life.
However, before you accept your next speaking engagement, consider these suggestions for PowerPoint success from Gale Dunlap, president and founder of Standout Strategies, a Boulder, Colorado-based small business consultancy:
1. Keep the number of slides to a minimum.
Use slides to emphasize a point or to elaborate on something in your talk, not to repeat the talk itself. Fewer than 25 slides is a good goal to shoot for.
2. Use only a few words on each slide.
Long blocks of text are overwhelming and hard to read by members of the audience. Instead, use a list of short bullet points to underscore your message. No more than two to three bullets per slide.
3. Don't read the slides.
Audience members came to hear you speak—not read—to them. Repeating what is on the screen makes you appear unprofessional and robs you of any rapport with the audience. The purpose of the slide is to "elaborate" on something in your oral presentation and to deepen the audience's understanding.
It is tempting to design your slides with dazzling typefaces, but it is also distracting for the audience. Clarity and legibility should be your guidelines when putting your slides together. Choose a classic typeface, such as Times Roman, Helvetica, or Arial. Make sure that the print is large enough for the audience to read easily, such as a 30-point font size.
5. Use slides with appropriate graphics and colors.
Displaying information graphically can liven up a presentation, but err on the side of caution. Use simple images, such as pie or bar charts that contain a spare amount of data. Be sure to explain the chart so that the audience understands its importance. "Colors should be conservative—not hot pink and lime green," Dunlap says.
6. Be selective about inserting special effects.
It's usually wise to stay away from overly dramatic special effects, such as starbursts or shrinking fonts. But one effect to consider using is "appear" animation, that lets you highlight two important points on a slide one at a time. When used judiciously, they can heighten your audience's attention.
7. Prepare diligently for your presentation.
Conscientious speakers always rehearse their presentation until they have it down. This is especially true when you're using PowerPoint. Get comfortable coordinating the timing of the slides at key moments during your talk. To become proficient, print out six slides per page and make notes for yourself that can act as triggers when you address the audience. Asking the audience questions is also an excellent way to keep them involved and alert.
With a few thoughtful guidelines, you can turn PowerPoint into the effective tool it was meant to be, enhance your presentation, and serve the needs of your audience.
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