3 Steps to Communicate WITH PowerPoint

There comes a point in every presenter’s life when he (or she) must decide: is this presentation about me or is this presentation something I want the audience to leave thinking: “wow, that was really helpful”?

If the presentation is about the presenter, there’s no need to spend much time or effort preparing for an engaging experience.

If the presentation is about the audience, if the presentation is intended to help them be better or do something better, then the following three tips can come in handy to ensure that you can communicate with PowerPoint.

Tip #1: PowerPoint is not a lesson plan

What should the audience know or be able to do differently as a result of the presentation?  What kinds of materials (handouts, visual aids, mementos for the audience to remember you by, etc.) might you want to bring for your audience?  How much time should you spend on any particular area of the presentation?  How should the presentation flow?  It is very difficult to map the answers to these questions using PowerPoint, even if you’re an avid user of the notes section.  Using a lesson plan template to map out your presentation will help you to pull together a coherent and engaging presentation.

Tip #2: Avoid templates like the plague

Once you have your plan in place for how you’d like your presentation to flow, and if you’ve decided that PowerPoint slides are necessary (because, frankly, slides aren’t always necessary for every presentation), then it’s time to open up PowerPoint.  And when you do, you might come face to face with a pre-loaded template, perhaps even a slick-looking template with your logo.  Templates reduce the amount of space available for your visual aids and audience members consciously ignore logos on slides anyways (unless you’ve somehow made your logo a relevant piece of your presentation).  99 times out of 100, your starting design choice for PowerPoint should look like this:

Blank Template

Tip #3: Embrace the time it takes to work visual magic

The downside to using a blank design is that presenters need to spend some time figuring out what to put on the slide.  The upside: presenters have the freedom to be extremely creative and to put together slides that capture the audience’s imagination, make them smile, perhaps even garner an “oooo” or an “ah” from the audience.

The design can be kept simple by just changing the color of the background…

Blank Template (Black)

…and maybe a contrasting font color to capture the audience’s attention…

Blank Template (Black w Yellow font)

…and then perhaps spend a few minutes playing with the font, something a little more “exotic” to set the right tone…

Blank Template (Black w exotic font)

…and perhaps I want to change the background, using one of my own photos of an iconic site…

Blank Template (Taj)

…or a free, royalty-free image from a stock image site

Blank Template (Clipart)

One last point about the “visual magic”: take out your bullet points, they look silly on a slide.  And economize on the number of words in each slide.  I guess that makes two last points.

Yes, it takes significant time to put together a visually attractive PowerPoint presentation.  So the question then becomes: is the point of the presentation for a presenter to slap a few slides together as quickly as possible?  Or is the point of the presentation to provide an interesting, perhaps even unique, learning experience that the audience will remember and talk about long after the presentation is complete?

What else are you doing to improve how you communicate with PowerPoint?

5 thoughts on “3 Steps to Communicate WITH PowerPoint

  1. Brian,

    Great post, as usual. People remember images better than words (especially bullet points), and spoken words better than printed words. So why do so many Powerpoint presentations look like documents? The presenter’s energy is better spent organizing a story made of images (like your memorable story about your daughter in the park), and PRACTICING THE DELIVERY 🙂

    I recommend the book “Slide:ology” by Nancy Duarte. It’s an excellent treatise on how to develop and deliver effective presentations. It also contains lessons about information design that can be applied to pretty much every other aspect of a trainer’s work.


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