Death by PowerPointIt is common for trainers (and trainees!) to refer to ‘Death by Powerpoint’, and it is true that the presentation tool is most often wrongly used and rather than enhancing presentations, successfully ruins them. My preference is always to go for interactive and participatory workshops whenever possible, and the closest I ever get to didactic delivery is usually using a flip-chart and marker pen. However, there are occasions when a computer-based presentation is unavoidable and can be extremely useful, if used correctly.

When can Powerpoint*  be useful?

  • When working with big groups in lecture style format and theatre layout.
  • To display and demonstrate examples as part of a workshop – perhaps to show video clips or compare statistical data.
  • To quickly present  complex data.
  • To add variety and break up the pace of a workshop.
  • To bring in an additional level of information encoding to stimulate recall.

Do’s and Don’ts.

Do:

  1. Plan how and when you are going to use your slide-show.
  2. Take a leaf out of TV News or current affairs – The screen displays support graphics or images to set the scene and support what the presenter is saying. They don’t display the words that the presenter is saying.
  3. Think of you presentation as two complimentary elements – what you will be saying and what is appearing on the screen – make it a double act.
  4. Break up your presentation. If you are going to be standing up for say 40 minutes. don’t have 40 minutes of PowerPoint. Vary the pace: maybe 5 minutes introduction, then a 10 minute slide presentation, 15 minutes interactive question and answer, 5 minutes of information delivery by slide followed by a 10 minute quiz, then 5 minutes summary by slide and interaction.
  5. Integrate interaction. After delivering a batch of information, ask open-ended questions: ‘What do those figures suggest?’, ‘What strikes you about that scenario?’, ‘How would you respond?’ etc. Ask delegates to complete short questionnaires, quizzes or engage in creative note taking.
  6. Break up you presentation – mix text slides with image slides, audio and video clips, two or three word themes with charts and graphs.
  7. Make use of charts and graphs rather than columns of figures if possible.
  8. Provide handouts – don’t expect delegates to take in and remember masses of data.
  9. Theme your presentation – turn it into a narrative, a story with a beginning middle and an end. I have used themes of silent movies, a journey, exploration… I even used the Dick Whittington story to build an export presentation around. It makes your presentation more memorable and gives you a structure to hang it around.

Don’t:

  1. Don’t start by writing your entire presentation in PowerPoint – this is speaker support, you will be there making the presentation. You want your audience to be listening to you, not reading of the screen.  Plan your presentation on paper, decide what you wnat to say, and then, and only then decide if you need speaker support and how it will be most effective.
  2. Don’t use lots of words – see above.
  3. Don’t use too many slides – one of the most memorable presentations I ever saw was delivered by a speaker who spoke for an hour but used just six slides. She used the slides to highlight five major themes and one summary. They were images not words, put on the screen and left there while she talked.
  4. Don’t read off the screen – as I have already said, your presentation should NOT be the same words that you are saying, but do face your audience and at worst have a laptop screen in front of you for the comfort factor of ensuring the slide has changed, if you must.
  5. Don’t hide behind your laptop – it’s not a sheild. You want to connect with your audience – make eye contact and move around.
  6. Don’t expect people to take in a mass of detail off the screen. If you are delivering a complex of technical proposition, summarise information in charts or diagrams and let your audience know that; “The full data sheets (or whatever) are included in your information pack/handout…”
  7. Don’t forget your objectives – what does your audience want and what do you want them to take away from the presentation? Measure your success by this criteria.
  8. Don’t trust technology – it will come back and bite you one day. Be prepared, have your spare bulbs and data cables etc. Always have a ‘Plan-B’: what will you do if there is a power failure or your laptop is lost or stolen on the way to the lecture? Have you a backup on a memory stick? Have you a version of the presentation you can deliver without visual aids? Have printed out a hard copy?
  9. Don’t have tunnel vision – a slide presentation is not the only way to support your presentation. There are other alternatives – video is so easy these days and a DVD of half a dozen video clips can be far more memorable than fifty slides full of text. A simple slide-show of images can be very effective. You can always link up to examples from live websites or even a webcam demonstration by a colleague 100 miles away. Take a look at some alternative presentation media such as Prezi (www.prezi.com), that get away from the slide format.
  10. Don’t forget to time your presentation – you don’t want to rush and you want to have time to be flexible, interact with your audience and make detours if necessary. Knowing that you have ample time will make you more relaxed and allow you to vary your pace.

* I have used the term PowerPoint throughout as a generic term, but this refers to all flavours of text-based slide presentation.

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