Learn to Like PowerPoint

I was recently sitting in an information session for one of the high schools my son is considering. We endured the roster of speakers and thinking the end was near, the last speaker proceeded to the podium and flipped open his notebook. We knew what was coming: PowerPoint! The reaction of the audience was a partially suppressed collective groan, and scores of people whipping out their Blackberries to check their email.

Why have we come to hate PowerPoint? We sit through meetings with presentations that practically send us screaming from the boardroom. The sins range from reams of slides, covered in incomprehensible text, animations, flow charts and bullet points, to speakers who use this powerful but often misused tool as a crutch to cover up flimsy content.

If you remember only one thing, let it be this: PowerPoint is a tool to support a speaker and provide emphasis to points of importance. It is effective to illustrate and clarify complex concepts. It should never be, but all too often is, used as an electronic document containing all the information that you want your audience to know.

The problem can be addressed with a few simple guidelines that could change your whole company's attitude toward presentations.

Get a plan and identify your goal.
Plan your presentation on paper ahead of time. Before you detail the content, think about the length of the presentation and number of slides. Use a sticky note to represent each slide---an easy way to practice flow and transitions.

Start with an agenda.
A concise outline gives meeting participants a chance to prepare their minds for what's ahead.

Use a large, clean font.
Font should be no smaller than 20 pt. and sans serif such as Arial so that participants don't have to strain to read your points.

Five points in five minutes.
Use no more than 5 points per slide at 1 minute per point. Short-term memory only holds seven pieces of information at one time, so don't overload it! Make use of "builds" where appropriate, so that people don't read ahead and try to anticipate what you're about to say.

Avoid over-animation and online clip-art.
Use visuals only if they are useful or to clarify a point. If you do use graphics, place them on the left side of your slide for greatest impact.

Ensure there is strong contrast between background and font.
Contrast will help to offset room lighting and projector issues.

Plan for inevitable hardware and software problems.
Test all equipment ahead of time and have support available in case of hardware or software failure.

There is a reason that scores of company presidents and CEO's have banished this abused tool from their meetings. When planning your next PowerPoint presentation, try using these points as a checklist. See if it doesn't change the way that your organization feels about your meeting----they might even pay attention.