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Using PowerPoint Effectively

Have you ever been trapped listening to someone read from endless and overly complicated PowerPoint slides? Have you ever seen animation, moving text or other bells and whistles that had nothing to do with the presenter's message? I certainly have.

PowerPoint can be an effective communication tool, but it has to be done right. Perhaps these simple pointers will help people in your organization create more effective PowerPoint presentations.

Using PowerPoint Effectively
Identify Audience and Purpose 
Whether you use PowerPoint or not, your job as a speaker is to convey an understandable message that is important or necessary to your listeners. Content and strategy are key. 

As in any writing or speaking assignment, you should start by analyzing your audience - what do they know about the topic, what is their relationship to you, and so forth - and decide what you are trying to achieve. What key ideas can you not fail to communicate?

Is PowerPoint the Right Vehicle?
Once you have identified your purpose, you should ask if PowerPoint is the right medium for your message. You would never, for example, use PowerPoint to convince a single individual.

When I talk to groups about business writing or how to market their small businesses, I seldom use PowerPoint. If I can't tell my audience what they need to know, in a form they can understand, I've failed as a speaker.

In many cases, however, PowerPoint may be an effective way of communicating, but only if you remember your purpose.

Keep Slides Short
Limit the number of words on each slide to a maximum of 35. Text-heavy visuals are hard to read and annoy the audience. Remember that your slides should only state your key points, and edit those points down so they are expressed as succinctly as possible. 

Don't put everything you're going to say in your slides. How often have we been to PowerPoint presentations, where the speaker simply reads from his slides? B-O-R-I-N-G. Slides are meant to reinforce and clarify your message, not BE your message.

Make Slides Readable
Use a readable font size. I suggest at least 24-point. If people can't read your slides, there's not much point in having them. As in all writing, do not overuse bullet points, which are tiring to read and imply that every point is of equal importance. 

Proofread carefully. Not only do typos make your slides harder to read, but they damage your credibility.

Another way to make slides readable is to limit their number. Have you been to presentations that have gone through 100 slides in 15 minutes? This overwhelms the audience and causes them to stop responding. It's also a question of scope. Do you really have enough key information to fill 100 slides?

Keep Graphs and Charts Simple
We have all seen complex graphs and charts in PowerPoint that are unreadable and impossible to figure out. As in any writing, make them simple. They're there to help your message, not hinder it. 

By thinking about strategy and following these few pointers, people in your organization should be able to create more effective PowerPoint presentations. And you will get to stop wondering how many hours they must have spent on those slides that weren't effective anyway.

All the best,
P.S. Remember: a selection of my past newsletters is available online at http://www.holton.cc/archive.html.