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How to Avoid "Death by PowerPoint"

By: Dave Paradi

David Paradi is an experienced facilitator and Project Leader for Business Improvement Architects (www.bia.ca). He specializes in the areas of Project Management, Strategic Planning and Presentation Technology. Dave's solid understanding of Project Management has been gained through his experience as both a project leader and as a project team member on a variety of projects. In addition to consulting, Dave is currently on the faculty of the York University Masters Certificate in Project Management. Contact at dparadi@bia.ca

With more and more people using PowerPoint to deliver presentations, we are seeing it used poorly so many times that a new phrase has been coined to describe the poor use of visuals during a presentation – “Death by PowerPoint”. Here are the five most common problems with PowerPoint presentations and how you can solve them so that you avoid “Death by PowerPoint”.

Problem #1: The presenter focused more on the visuals than the content.
This problem is usually identified when the audience leaves the presentation and says that the slides were nice, but they can’t remember what the speaker said. This is solved by preparing your presentation using a proper approach. First focus on the desired outcome of the presentation and the background and composition of the audience to determine the key points that will move the audience from where they are to your desired end point. Then do additional research to provide backup for each key point. Next, focus on the content only by using the Outline View in PowerPoint to outline the key points and supporting material. Once the outline is tested for fit with the purpose of the presentation and the time allotted, then proceed to the visual part of the presentation slides. One should never be concerned about how the slide looks until one is clear that the slide has meaning.

Problem #2: The audience can’t clearly see the slides
There are two common causes of this problem. The first is that there is not enough contrast between the text colour and the background colour on the slide. Many times the colours look fine on our computer monitor, but when projected, they change. No projector, however expensive, will truly show the colours the same way. The best contrast combination that I have found is to use a medium to dark blue background with yellow or white text. Make sure that you check the colours on a projector before you present to be sure what they will look like. The other common cause of this problem is that the font size chosen for the text is too small. There is no one best font size to use, it depends more on how big of an image you are projecting on the screen. The easy way to test if your font size is too small is to use to 8 to 1 rule. Here is how the rule works. The distance to the audience member seated furthest from the screen should be no more than 8 times the height of the image on the screen. For example, if the screen image is 4 feet high, then the last row of chairs in the room should be no more than 8 times 4 feet or 32 feet from the screen. To test this when developing your presentation, stand about 8 to 9 feet away from your computer monitor and see if you can comfortably read the screen (most monitors are about 12 to 13 inches high). If the room is set up with the last row further away than the rule suggests, either make the image on the screen larger, or remove some chairs at the back of the room.

Problem #3: The audience is distracted by the visuals
The most common cause of this problem is having objects or text move on the screen while the presentation is going on. The basic premise when designing visuals is that they add to the message and they do not make the audience work. If the audience is spending time and energy watching the visuals, they have less energy to devote to the message, which is the most important part of the presentation. There are a lot of features in PowerPoint that allow slide designers to introduce movement and sounds on slides and unfortunately these features tend to be overused. Any graphic, sound or video should add value to the point being made, not be there because it could be done. Text movement is also problematic because it is virtually impossible for someone to read text while it is moving. This causes audience members to wait until the text stops before they can read it, and increases the time they spend looking at the screen and decreases the time and attention they focus on the presenter and the message. Use text movement with caution.

Problem #4: Pointer movement on the screen
It is very distracting for the audience when the pointer (the arrow) moves across the screen during the presentation. This is caused by moving the mouse in the Slide Show View. If you use a mouse (remote or attached) to advance slides, movement of the mouse directional control (ball or pad) will cause the pointer to appear and move on the screen. This is a very easy problem to solve. After the Slide Show View is started, press the Ctrl-L key combination. This hides the pointer even if the mouse moves. If you need to display the pointer during the presentation, press the Ctrl-A key combination.

Problem #5: Dropping into the program
It reduces your effectiveness as a presenter if during or after the presentation the audience sees the PowerPoint program displayed on the screen. This usually happens in one of two ways. First, at the end of the presentation, if you advance past the last slide, it will drop you into the program. The simple way to solve this is to duplicate your last slide three times at the end of your presentation. This way, if you advance one too many times, it won’t matter because the image is the same. The other way this happens is if the pointer appears on screen during the presentation, our natural tendency is to press the Escape key. This will not clear the pointer, but it will drop us into the program. If the pointer does appear on the screen during the presentation, resist the temptation to press the Escape key, press the A key instead. This will hide the pointer. You can also hide the pointer using the Ctrl-L key combination as referred to above.

By identifying and solving the five most common problems with PowerPoint presentations, you can help avoid “Death by PowerPoint”.

© 2000 Dave Paradi

Other Articles by Dave Paradi

The author assumes full responsibility for the contents of this article and retains all of its property rights. ManagerWise publishes it here with the permission of the author. ManagerWise assumes no responsibility for the article's contents.

 

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