The Dreaded PowerPoint Presentation

Visual aids can be a powerful tool for grabbing and maintaining the attention of an audience. If we compare recall statistics of people who attend conferences, it is said that most people can recall around 60% of what they see and hear; just 40% if they only see a presentation; and a mere 25% if they only hear what is presented. So we know visual aids are helpful, whether they are used in one to one sales situations or when presenting to groups large and small. It is also obvious that the most used medium for constructing and delivering the visual element of a presentation for the vast majority of speakers is PowerPoint. Yet the best PowerPoint presentation in the whole world will not compensate for a poorly delivered presentation.

If you make a presentation without visual aids, it becomes very difficult for the audience to remain focused on the messages within your presentation. Not only do visual aids involve the audience, but they also help to reduce the amount of preparation necessary for a successful presentation. Many people begin with constructing the slides first then add the script later.

Visual aids can tell the audience many things about you and your message. A presentation is infinitely more effective when it is partnered by visuals, as they help to tap into the emotions of the audience. They can reinforce your subject, stimulate greater understanding amongst the audience, focus attention, and clarify complex points. There are however some potential downsides to using and even relying on PowerPoint.

Technology failure
It can easily happen: You have everything planned for your presentation, but there is an electricity cut; you have copied everything onto a memory key but when you attempt to copy it to the venue’s computer, the file is corrupt; you manage to copy everything to the computer you are using, but the version or setup is totally different, and all of your graphics have changed for the worse.

You need to have a contingency plan. At the worst, you should be able to deliver your presentation either without visuals, or arrange to have a flip chart available in case you need it.

Avoid anything which is technologically complicated, such as web connections or live video links. More times than not, they go wrong.

The audience switches off
Most good and highly experienced presenters know when the presentation is not working, and are able to change mid-stream in order to engage the audience. Poor presenters, including the highly nervous, probably don’t even notice the audience and carry on regardless. Why do audiences switch off? Reasons include:

  1. They see your opening slides, which have no graphics but contain rows of bullet points. Make the font size large and try and keep the number of bullet points down to three per slide. In fact, if you can avoid bullet point altogether, it would be even better.
  2. People get annoyed, because despite having all the words on the screen you insist on reading them all out. Don’t read out all of the words on the slide – it will drive the audience mad! The slide is supposed to support the words you use – not be the same.
  3. The slides have a background colour and font colours that make the words difficult to read: red, orange and yellow are difficult to read on a screen.
  4. Your talk is supposed to last 20 minutes and you have 40 slides to get through. Giving a presentation takes longer than you think. The fewer slides you have, the more the audience will thank you.
  5. Don’t look at the screen. You should face the audience at all times. Every time you look away from the audience towards the screen, the pitch of your voice changes and those who rely upon a combination of your voice and your lips become totally confused. By using a laptop you should be able to have the presentation in front of you, with the screen behind you. You don’t need to look at the screen.
  6. Never get someone else to operate the slides for you. It’s twice the risk, and people get annoyed if you continually ask the operator to move the slides forward or go back. If you’re no good with technology – don’t use it.
  7. Don’t use clipart – it’s naff. Use real photos. Remember – a picture tells a thousand words! But make sure they are of a good quality and don’t pixilate on screen. The more you stretch a picture the more it will blur. If you’re presenting figures, use a chart, but don’t overcomplicate it. Less is more.
  8. Keep the transition of slides simple. Having effects like ‘flying in’ are distracting and can be annoying.
  9. Don’t use a laser pointer. The red dot is always so tiny that it cannot be seen and controlling it is very difficult. If you want to point to something, use the curser, which can be increased in size.
  10. Prepare your presentation slides weeks in advance of the actual presentation and practise and time your presentation for ten times as many minutes as the presentation is supposed to last. During the intervening period regularly go back to them and consider reducing the number of words and the number of slides.
  11. Don’t hand out a copy of your slides prior to your presentation. People should be coming to hear the speakers, not to collect notes. In addition people will always go through the handouts whilst you’re speaking and quite often will have reached the end long before you’re finished speaking. Not only will they miss what you’re saying but they also be annoyed that you’re still going through your talk when they already have reached the end.
  12. Whatever you do – keep to the timing. There’s nothing annoys an audience more than having expected a presentation to last fifteen minutes for it to take half an hour.