applied tips : february 2009
microsoft powerpoint : five ways to simplify your slideshow
We've all seen our share of poorly-designed PowerPoint presentations, so much that comedians are even taking a stab at them during their stand-up routines (just look on YouTube).
So I've assembled a few ways you can simplify your presentations, which will help engage your audience (keep them awake) and deliver you better results.
And in the spirit of this article, I'll use visuals to help explain my suggestions.
Less Text, More Diagrams
There is no magic number on how many words or bullets you should have on a slide... but if you think it's too much, then it is.
Bullets don't need to be complete sentences -- in fact, they shouldn't be. Your slideshow should not be able to deliver itself, so delete as much as you can until there's the bare minimum on your slide.
Consider these two examples:
Remember that all of the content we eliminated from that cluttered slide can still be given to our audience in the form of a handout or online resource.
Increase Line Spacing
Sometimes you have to give your audience an entire paragraph, and cutting it up into bullets just don't do. That's fine, but we can still make it look better for the audience.
By increasing the paragraph line spacing (i.e. double-spacing) you can add white space which makes the chunk of text much more readable. Throwing in a graphic, maybe faded behind the text, can also be a great addition.
Consider these two examples:
Notice the little quote mark graphics, which add a nice touch since this is a customer's testimonial. Offsetting the author to the right, in italics, also breaks things up a bit.
Don't Hesitate to "Continue" Your List
Often you'll have a list of eight or ten points that you must cover with your audience, and the temptation to cram them all into one slide is just too great. Don't.
Split the items evenly over two different slides with identical formatting. Then add a simple text box with the words "continued..." in italics off to the side of the first slide. You and your audience will both know that there's more to the slide, but it won't look overwhelming. Bonus: Your audience won't be distracted reading #8 while you're still on #1.
Here's your visual:
Note how less cluttered the list looks, and the obvious continuation of the list in the lower-right corner.
Use a Photo Wherever Possible
Take a slide right out of Steve Jobs' presentations and use giant, stunning photos to deliver your message at every opportunity. Whether you're soliciting donations or improving workplace safety, a photo really is worth one-thousand words.
It's hard not to connect to a photograph, and Microsoft Office has thousands of free, high-quality photos like the one used above that you can insert into your slideshow.
Charts, Not Spreadsheets
Just as we want to reduce the number of words, we should also reduce the number of numbers.
Consider these two examples showing the annual expenses of a fake company and their fake line items:
Not only will the rear row of the audience not be able to see your tiny spreadsheet, but it's too distracting and detailed for anyone to pay attention to you while this is on display.
Our second example, with a stacked column chart instead, shows the information that the audience really needs -- a simple look at where we are over the four quarters. If someone asks for details, tell them you'll email them the full spreadsheet after the presentation.
Creating a great slideshow doesn't have to take any more time than creating a ho-hum one. In fact, if you look at the examples above, some of the slides took less time than their crowded counterparts. And once you get in the swing of things, crafting a slideshow can be a fun, creative experience that doesn't take much time at all.
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