Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Presentations that sell

The other night I was helping a friend fine tune her slide show. She was going to be giving a presentation to a bunch of students and she was anxious to get across her points with as much detail as possible. You can imagine the result.

I did the usual things to help, given that we didn't have much time. I showed her how to add some images, pick and choose a theme to apply, clean up the formatting, etc.

But I knew that no matter how much we worked on it, it wasn't going to have the kind of impact on her students that she was looking for. She had fallen victim to the same kind of PowerPoint trap that so many of us encounter. If one word is good, then two are better, right?

Fortunately, although it's too late for that particular slide show, marketing guru Seth Godin has ridden to the rescue. He's just re-posted to his blog a piece called "Really Bad PowerPoint". He says he first wrote it about four years ago...

I figured the idea might spread and then the problem would go away--we'd no longer see thousands of hours wasted, every single day, by boring PowerPoint presentations filled with bullets.

Not only has it not gone away, it's gotten a lot worse. Last week I got a template from a conference organizer. It seems they want every single presenter to not only use bullets for their presentations, but for all of us to use the same format! Shudder.

So, for posterity, and in the vain hope it might work, here we go again:

Then he lays out his secrets for creating and delivering a great presentation.

If you have to deliver presentations, or help others to put them together, you should read this piece and think about how you could put it to good use. It's filled with good ideas and suggestions -- things that most of us already know but rarely follow through on. Like these rules:

Here are the five rules you need to remember to create amazing Powerpoint presentations:

1. No more than six words on a slide. EVER. There is no presentation so complex that this rule needs to be broken.

2. No cheesy images. Use professional stock photo images.

3. No dissolves, spins or other transitions.

4. Sound effects can be used a few times per presentation, but never use the sound effects that are built in to the program. Instead, rip sounds and music from CDs and leverage the Proustian effect this can have. If people start bouncing up and down to the Grateful Dead, you’ve kept them from falling asleep, and you’ve reminded them that this isn’t a typical meeting you’re running.

5. Don’t hand out print-outs of your slides. They don’t work without you there.

PowerPoint is a fabulous program but it's become a crutch for too many of us. We expect the technology to gloss over the fact that we don't really have that much to say.

But what we really do is fail to take the time to map out our presentation and make sure it's going to have the impact we want. It's not something you can just throw together at the last minute.

So what do you say? Let's all take a pledge to think about our presentations and take the time to follow Seth's advice. Who's with me? Hello? Where is everyone?

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Anonymous said...

I'm with fact, I am currently preparing a powerpoint presentation for a meeting on friday....great timing!

Dave said...

I hope some of the ideas help. It's amazing how much good can come out of taking the time to think about something before we start on it.

That's where the old saying, "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail," comes from. Nobody really believes it until it happens to them.

Hmmm...sounds like the same attitude applies to backing up your hard disk, doesn't it?

Tim said...

He was doing so well till he fell into the trap of trying to make a list of tips, no doubt with the intent of being quoted.

But really, as one who has used Powerpoint a lot and taught seminars in its use (including many of Godin's ideas or similar):

> No more than six words on a slide. EVER.

Oversimplification. It is quite possible to create an effective slide with more words than that. For example, a list of the 2-word names of the four divisions of an organization. It would have been enough to say "use as few words as possible - this is Powerpoint, not Word."

# No cheesy images. Use professional stock photo images.

Oversimplification. No cheesy images, yes. Throw away all the clip art that came with Powerpoint. If you use pictures (and you should if you can), use good ones. But stock photos? Feh. Unless you are exceptionally skilled at choosing them, your audience will groan when they see them, because they know stock pix when they see them. They want to see pictures from their world, the real world, not airbrushed models in brand-new $2000 suits, in obviously posed situations. His example of the bird? Now that's a GOOD use of a stock photo.

Dave said...

Those are good points Tim. Especially the part about how he lost you when he tried to be a little too specific in those "rules." There's a lesson there. The more you know, the more you realize how much more there is that you don't know. And trying to reduce anything down to a few simple "rules" usually gets you into trouble. Your suggestion about how many words to put on a slide is a perfect example.

Cyrus Mavalwala said...

Always a good reminder when building a PPT deck. Perhaps his most valuable lesson is that one should "make slides that reinforce your words, not repeat them."

Although this takes more time and effort for the presenter, the audience will appreciate it.