The PowerPoint Dilemma

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Ah PowerPoint!  We’ve all witnessed its use at one time or another.

Years ago I considered myself to be somewhat of an expert in the use of PowerPoint.  There was, however, one minor problem.  My slides were awful…no…they were beyond awful!  I used slides as a crutch and it made me a poor presenter.  I’d pack slides full of information like some sort of stream of consciousness exercise.  My messages were lost in a sea of bullet points and paragraphs.

Here is what a typical slide of mine looked like a few years ago.


What did this slide and all the others accomplish?  Not much other than boring my audience to death.

If you’re doing a fair amount of presenting then my guess is you’ve used PowerPoint or Keynote (Apple’s presentation software) somewhere along the line.  These tools can add a lot to your talk or your workshop but only if you use them appropriately.  Here are a few guidelines and tips to help.

(1) Limit The Amount Of Text You Use On Your Slides

  • Some experts suggest no more than two to three words per bullet point. Others suggest limiting the number of words on a slide to ten.
  • Avoid using slides as a documentation tool or as a way for you to explain your message through words. The words you use on a slide should serve as cues that complement the real content, which comes from you.

(2) Use Images Whenever Possible

  • Substitute images and video clips for words whenever possible. Images are far more powerful and engaging.
  • Want to know if you’re getting the hang of it? Give your presentation handouts to a colleague or group of friends. If, after viewing your slides, they have very little idea what your talk is about then YOU ARE ON THE RIGHT TRACK!
  • As your audience responds to the power of the image or images, you can reinforce your ideas through the power of a story.

Here is an example of an effective use of imagery in a PowerPoint presentation focusing on homelessness.


(3) Try To Focus On One Concept/Idea Per Slide

(4) Use Slides That Tell A Story Rather Than Relate A Fact

(5) Practical Matters To Consider

  • Avoid distracting technical concepts: Don’t have images spin in and out. Don’t use moving text, or fancy slide transitions.
  • Avoid sophisticated graphs or models. How many of you have heard this before? “This graph is really hard to read but let me see if I can show you what it is trying to say.” If you have to apologize for something you’re about to show then don’t show it!
  • If a slide appears too “wordy” or confusing then make additional slides to accommodate your ideas and content.
  • If you’re struggling over a slide that you want to make work but it just doesn’t seem to fit, it’s most likely not worth including in your presentation.
  • Avoid using clip art of any kind if possible. Generic Clip Art looks amateurish. Unique cartoons and powerful images are great, but basic clip art will bring down the look and feel of your slide show.
  • Use a white background. Avoid using fancy and overdone backgrounds that take away from the presentation.
  • Use a basic font that is clear and easy to read.

Give these tips a try and have fun presenting.  Remember, it’s the most powerful business development tool out there!


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