Easiest Way to Determine that Your PowerPoint SUCKS!

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I apologize for using a vulgar word in the headline, but this topic gets my blood boiling and I’m using the language almost verbatim how it was asked to me. The other day, someone messaged me on Twitter (@speak_simple) and said she’d been following my tweets for a while and read many of my blog posts. She asked me, “What is the easiest way to figure out if my PowerPoint sucks?” My response was quick, and an easy litmus test to administer.

Your PowerPoint is ineffective if you send it to someone who didn’t attend the presentation and that person can learn everything you had to share without attending the presentation.

Essentially, a presentation shouldn’t be read, otherwise, it would be an article, essay, whitepaper, or book, not a presentation. A presentation is an experience that combines the senses hearing and seeing (sometimes feeling, tasting, and smelling depending on the type of presentation like a cooking presentation). If someone can read your presentation and not lose anything, your visual aid (the PowerPoint) has way too much information on it.

If someone can read your slides and understand everything, you are useless as the speaker. Presenters need to add their expertise and knowledge, otherwise, your audience tunes you out and may even think you didn’t create the presentation. You want you audience focused on you, not on the screen reading your slides. When you design your PowerPoint correctly, the audience should look at the screen when you change slides, pause for a second or two, and then look back at you attentively listening.

If someone ever tells you that they couldn’t make your presentation and requests your PowerPoint, you should tell them that it won’t help because it only gives the headings and not the meat of the presentation. You can be nice and offer to walk them through the message and ideas, send them a related blog post or article you wrote, or record a webinar and share it with many others. (I’m a big fan of repurposing content and tailoring it to that specific medium and audience.)

Your PowerPoint is Ineffective With

  • Too Many Words
  • Complicated Graphics & Illegible Charts
  • Bullet Points
  • Slide Footers with Slide Numbers, Company Logo, Event Logo, Speaker’s Name, Date, etc.
  • Numerous Images
  • Overly Animated Transitions
  • Colors with Little Contrast
  • Slides Out of Order

Keys to an Effective PowerPoint (Visual Aid).

  • Simplicity –  Less is more with visual aids, they should be a thumbnail of the idea you’re discussing to keep the audience focused and to help jog your memory on what to say next.
  • Short Headlines – Keep headlines to 5-7 words max
  • Bold Images – Images should capture your idea without giving it away and, most likely, you want to fill the slide with your image
  • Simple Charts – Keep your charts clean and legible. You can explain what they mean to your audience without the fine print.

Now you may be thinking about handouts.

Yes, many speakers print out their PowerPoints and use them as handouts. That is okay because it lets the audience take notes next to the headline and images in your slides that represent that idea. It isn’t okay to use your slide deck as the only means of communication.

Even better than printing your slide deck and using it as a handout is developing a corresponding worksheet that walks your audience through your presentation. Yes, this is extra work, but you’re using each medium to its fullest and giving your audience the right tools to comprehend and retain your message so it should be worth it, especially for bid presentations and thought leadership presentations where prospective clients are in attendance.

When working on your next presentation, keep in mind that if someone can read your presentation, then it is effective, you are useless as the presenter, and your PowerPoint “sucks”.

Additional Resources

How Speak Simple Can Help You

Win more work, increasing your billing rate, and prospects coming to you are all results of being an excellent presenter. Erica Olson created Speak Simple to help technical professionals to become comfortable presenting and excel at each presentation, whether a bid presentation or an educational, content marketing presentation. Learn more about Speak Simple’s flagship program is SpeakU, a self-guided presentation training program.

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