How to Use PowerPoint Effectively, Part 1

Microsoft PowerPoint. It is the most commonly used presentation media, but very few people are talking about how to use it correctly. So it’s no wonder that many people from classrooms to boardrooms aren’t using it in the way it was designed to be used. One of the best resources on proper use of this type of presentation media is Jerry Weissman’s book Presenting to Win: The Art of Telling Your Story. His book goes into depth on how to put the power back in PowerPoint. Here are three specific things you should avoid when using PowerPoint, or a program like it, to accompany your presentation.

Avoid Double or Triple Delivery

All too often, speakers will hand out a copy of their slides, show the slides on a screen, and read from the slides during the presentation. Essentially the audience is getting the same message from three different channels. That’s good right? Actually, it’s not. In one particular study, Rik Pieters and fellow researchers studied the effects that repetition had on audience attention. They found that with each repeated viewing of a commercial, participants tended to pay increasingly less attention. In other words, the message got old and the audience lost interest.

We live in a multi-media world. We can process information very quickly these days. And things that are redundant feel like a waste of time or energy or brain power. Any time the presenter and the slide are doing the exact same thing, you are wasting one channel that could be doing something to support the other channel and further engage the audience.

Avoid Upstaging Yourself

Our eyes are involuntarily drawn to movement. When a screen lights up or a graphic appears or a bullet point flies across the screen, the speaker is no longer the star of the show, the movement is. Your goal as a speaker is to move in tandem with your presentation media, using the channel to compliment you, not upstage you.

Remember show and tell in elementary school? When you present, the speaker’s job is tell and the presentation media program’s job is to show. Don’t give your job away to your PowerPoint. As tech writer, Dennis O’Reilly puts it, “You're the one telling the story, not the slides. Look at every element on each slide as a graphic--text and images alike.” Keep in mind, anything on the screen is your competition for audience attention.

Avoid Title Slides

The first few moments of your presentation are crucial. Research at Princeton University found that we can decide if someone is trustworthy in just a tenth of a second!  In those first few moments of the presentation, the audience is forming opinions about you and your message. For that reason, don’t use title slides when you present. A title slide doesn’t do anything you can’t do. You can tell your name, your company’s name, and the topic of your presentation in a much more creative way during your introduction than by putting words up on the screen. We probably use them because we’ve gotten used to titling our reports or papers. But public speaking should always mirror conversation more closely than it mirrors writing, and no one starts a conversation by titling it.

Presentation media can make a presentation much more effective when used correctly. Unfortunately, the reverse is also true. But if you avoid the three common mistakes listed above, you’ll be that much closer to developing a powerful presentation that resonates with your audience.

Public speaking can seem like a daunting task. If you are ready to learn tested methods used by some of the best in the world, check out our online presentation skills course now. And if you need expert advice on how to design presentation media that gets results, contact our award-winning designers at Ethos3.

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