Last night I had to go clear to Canada to attend a mandatory training session on grants. I won’t name the organization. I will say that after last night, it’s pretty clear (if it wasn’t before) why it’s membership is tanking.
The training consisted of 4 sets of PowerPoint slides that the presenters read at us, more or less word for word. Fifteen minutes into the first set, someone asked whether we should be taking notes. “No,” they said. “All of what we’re showing you is available online. You can just download it.”
So, in effect, 150 people had to take hours and hours of their time to drive to Canada to have them read at us something we could have downloaded and read in 20 minutes. For me, that’s a Friday afternoon and evening with my family I’ll never get back. For a business, where people are at least getting paid for their time, it’s a hugely expensive waste of time and resources. But for a volunteer organization to do this kind of thing, it borders on criminal.
Aside from being a massive waste of time and resources, reading slides at people for 3 hours is utterly ineffective. In a case like this, where it’s just a lot of information, I would have retained more had I been reading them in the comfort of my own chair. Gatherings for presentations are not for detailed information distribution, they are for persuasion and motivation and community building.
If you’ve got a large group of people in the room, don’t waste the opportunity. Here are 8 tips for your next PowerPoint courtesy of Guy Kawasaki. You’ll find them in his two books, The Art of the Start and Enchantment. (Both good reads, by the way.)
- Dramatize. Use evocative pictures, powerful videos, and sizzling product demos to make your presentation exciting. The goal is to provide inspiring information that moves people to action. And by the way, slides of text seldom enchant, so the fewer words onscreen, the better.
- Shorten. As a rule of thumb, the longer you need to pitch something, the less skillful you are, and the more mediocre the cause. My guideline is called the 10-20-30 rule: make a ten-slide presentation in twenty minutes with no font smaller than thirty points.
- Use a Dark Background. A dark background communicates seriousness and substance. A white or light background looks cheap and amateurish. Also, staring at a harsh white presentation for forty-five minutes gets tiring for the eyes. Think about this: Have you ever seen movie credits that use black text on a white background?
- Use common, sans serif fonts. A presentation is not the place to show that you’ve accumulated the world’s largest collection of fonts. Use common fonts because someday your presentation may need to be given on a computer that has a different collection of fonts than your computer has. Also, use sans serif fonts because they are much easier to read than the delicate serif font you love. You can never go wrong with Arial.
- Animate your body, not your slides. PowerPoint has more than sixty ways to animate text and graphics. This is about fifty-nine too many. Many entrepreneurs use animations and transitions between slides to jazz up their presentations. Do you really think that a “faded fly-in from the bottom left” is going to make a presentation better? Do yourself a favor: Don’t use fancy animations. Use your body, not PowerPoint, to communicate expressiveness, emotion, and enthusiasm. Generally speaking, if you think something is cool, cut it.
- “Build” bullets. Most entrepreneurs don’t use bullets. They display and read big blocks of long text. That’s a mistake. Use bullets instead: short bursts of text that capture the main point. Even when entrepreneurs use bullets, they put them all up at once. That’s also a mistake. Build your bullets: click, bullet 1, explain; click, bullet 2, explain; click, bullet 3, explain. This is the only time you should use animation, and I recommend using the simple “appear” animation at that.
- Use only one level of bullets. The use of bullets with bullets means that you’re trying to communicate too much information on a slide or that your thinking is fuzzy. Each slide should communicate one point, with bullets to support that point. If you observe the 30 part of the 10/20/30 rule, it will be hard to have bullets with bullets, anyway.
- Add diagrams and graphs. Better a bullet than a block of text, but better a diagram or graph than a bullet. Use diagrams to explain how your business works. Use graphs to explain trends and numerical results. And build your diagrams and pictures by bringing in these elements with clicks, just like bullets.
And one more thing. Do yourself a favor and get a presentation remote. Your laser mouse isn’t doing you any favors when it doesn’t really fit in your hand that well when you’re waving it around, and you drop it, and you accidentally click the button and the slide advances unexpectedly and you can’t get it to go back, and the laser on the bottom of the mouse is shining in people’s eyes without you realizing it.