PowerPoint Surgery – Tips to create presentation slides that make your message stick, not suck!

PowerPoint Surgery – Tips to create presentation slides that make your message stick, not suck!
Lee Jackson

“If your words or images are not on point, making them dance in colour won’t make them relevant…Power corrupts, PowerPoint corrupts absolutely.”
Edward Tufte, Yale Emeritus professor

There are three very big things that we are expected to do, without training:

Relationships, Parenting and Powerpoint.

I daren’t tackle the first two just yet, so I thought I’d tackle the third!

There are 300 million powerpoint users in the world and its estimated that there are a million presentations happening right now. But most of them are dull or even bad. It’s bizarre and it can hurt our career.

A phrase that strikes fear into my heart is when a speaker stands and says; “I haven’t had time to prepare so I’m just going to read from my slides”. This is usually followed by the speaker turning their back on the audience to commence their public reading exercise.

You may laugh but I have genuinely seen this. Have you?

There is a better way.

Powerpoint Training with Lee Jackson

Firstly, don’t pass on the blame

The ingrained business philosophy of ‘slides are the presentation’ is a major problem that needs addressing.

My philosophy is simple – if our slides are bad, don’t blame the software, or our audience, it’s our fault. If a football team loses, we don’t blame FIFA (except for the lack of goal-line technology – don’t get me started), we blame the manager, we blame the team. If our train is late, we blame the train operator, not George Stephenson!

When I coach my business clients on slides they often say to me that their boss forces them to use ‘the company slides’, so not using the ‘standard corporate slide pack’ is seen as being rude or disrespectful to their boss. PowerPoint has waaaay too much power in the corporate world. It’s not on the board, it’s not a shareholder, we need to treat it as what it is – a piece of computer code that we can use for good, or for evil.

The software that we use, whether it’s Microsoft PowerPoint, Apple Keynote (my programme of choice), Prezi, Slideshark, Haiku Deck or the various other open source programs out there, the issue remains the same. All of these programs aren’t inherently bad, they are neutral, they are just tools for us to use.

So how do we make slides better?

Here are a few tips. Simple advice that can change your slides forever, IF you have the guts to implement them.

You are a designer

Whether you like it or not, as soon as you open your slide design programme you instantly become a designer. My designer mate Paul had a go at me a while back when I said to him “I’m not a designer Paul, I just love making good slides”. He made me realise that of course, we are all designers – it’s not a choice we have once we use presentation software. The penny dropped.

Don’t do the default

When you open up PowerPoint or Keynote you usually get a default template option.

When you see that option STOP right there, go no further!

Do not take the default option, which is usually a main title followed by bullet-points. Instead, open a blank slide in the colour of your choice, (see elsewhere in the book for more colour advice) add a picture if you are using them, and then if necessary a large text box.

You can often change the default option too in your software’s preferences or options.

Change it so you don’t fall into the default trap next time you are starting up PowerPoint.

It takes a lot of discipline to do this, but so do most things worth doing.

Get a blank white template here for free – http://leejackson.org/powerpoint-surgery-stuff

Think billboard NOT document

This is where the rot sets in, people simply try to do too many things with their slides.

Fundamentally, slides are for the audience, not for us the speaker.

Although I admit it’s tempting, they should not be our crutch. Once we understand that they are for our audience, we design them in a bigger and bolder way. Feel free to make a word document to hand out after your talk if you like (although no-one ever reads those documents in my experience), but don’t make your slides in that way. Build them for the bored bloke in row 33.

Nancy Duarte helpfully compared slides to billboards in her book Slide:ology. Imagine you are passing your slides at 50mph on a major road. Could you read them as you drive past? If you can’t they are too complicated and wordy. It’s a simple but effective test for designers like us.

Design your slides and if appropriate write some handout notes. But, just to be absolutely clear they are two very separate things!

If you’re going to produce a presentation slide deck, then do just that – don’t be tempted to make it into a hand-out with a slightly larger font.

Bullets kill

Bullets don’t just kill people, they kill presentations too. The default template may try to force you to use bullets, but you’re a grown up now and as I mentioned – you can say no. Sometimes when I see speakers present a slide with bullet points you can almost feel the people in the room deflate, they may not groan out loud, but they are inside.

I’ve heard it said to limit the words on a slide to 33. I’d say 3-12! Any more than that then either rephrase, condense or add another slide. There are creative alternatives to bullet points, but be careful you don’t just design nicer ways to bore your audience. Be tough on bullet boredom and the causes of bullet boredom.

Use Images a lot, but remember – This isn’t the 90’s

Here’s how: ditch the clip art, sounds and cheesy stock pictures and go for big pictures that fill the screen.

Choose your pictures carefully, never choose the most popular photos on stock sites and make sure the image is big enough to fill the screen without getting grainy or pixelated. That makes a big difference. Remember your laptop screen is fairly small and a big screen will show up all the imperfections in the image, so buy or find decent size images but not too big so they get too unwieldy.

Use ‘random internet’ or ‘Googled’ images with caution, beware of copyright and quality. Most of us have phones with good cameras on these days so why not use your own photos and start building up your own library of images? Flickr creative commons is also a good option for images you can use with permission, see http://www.flickr.com/creativecommons/ . Stock image websites are big business and come in all shapes and sizes. I use Big Stock Photo as they are user-friendly and great value compared to many out there.

Follow the new rules here and speak with passion and I promise, you’ll present better every time.

As Oscar winning presentation guru Nancy Duarte says “never give a presentation that you wouldn’t want to sit through yourself.”

I like that.

This article is an excerpt from Lee’s book “PowerPoint Surgery: How to create presentation slides that make your message stick.” Available from Amazon or directly from Lee’s website www.leejackson.biz

Lee Jackson is a motivational speaker, powerpoint surgeon, presentation coach and the author of the 2013 book ‘Powerpoint Surgery’. He’s been speaking up front for more than twenty years in many challenging situations. As well as speaking himself, he loves helping other people to speak well too. He is a fellow of the Professional Speaking Association (PSA) and also the president of the PSA Yorkshire region. He supports the New York Knicks, is a former youth worker and was once an award winning DJ. You can get in touch with him here: via leejackson.biz or twitter @leejackson

Powerpoint Training with Lee Jackson

More from Lee...

Lee has worked with...

UK Parliament
nhs leadership academy (1)