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Presentation Sensations

PowerPoint Presentations and You

Picture this: Your boss has just informed you that next week you will be presenting your wonderfully crafted business report to the Board of Directors. No sweat? But what’s this? He wants the report converted into a full PowerPoint presentation? Now, don’t get nervous, this is not a problem. Right?

For many business professionals this is a problem. They are either too busy to prepare such a presentation or have no idea how to prepare an effective one. There are several tips that a business professional can use in the preparation of a PowerPoint presentation, so let’s address that problem first.

What is PowerPoint?

PowerPoint is a presentation slideshow development tool available from Microsoft, either independently or as a component of the Microsoft Office suite. To works in much the same manner that a word processor might, but limits your “page” to a single screenshot for each frame.

It sounds easy, right? However, is it really that easy?

The PowerPoint presentation is used in conjunction with an oral presentation, meaning that the presentation is actually two distinct parts. Routinely the two are prepared in parallel, meaning as each section of the oral presentations is written, PowerPoint slides are added for the presentation of that section’s information.

The preparation of a PowerPoint presentation itself is one part information, two parts layout, and two parts aesthetics. An explanation is in order here.

Information

The information in a presentation is just that, the information or message you are attempting to convey. The information in the PowerPoint presentation hits on key facts or concepts, generally in an outline format, and is almost never presented alone. The oral presentation follows along with and explains the information in the PowerPoint slideshow. As such, the first rule in PowerPoint presentations is: Never put your presentation on the PowerPoint slide verbatim.

Layout

The layout of a PowerPoint presentation slide can be equally critical. Facts should be presented in bulleted lists with only a brief descriptive title. Bulleted items should be kept short, limiting them to between five and eight words each. The oral presentation portion of the project should handle development of each point. You should also limit the number of bullet points per slide to five or six. Longer lists should be broken into two or more slides. Only use graphics if they support or reinforce the central message of the slide and presentation. Thus the second rule of PowerPoint presentations is: Never overcrowd the PowerPoint slide by trying to include too much information on it.

Transition and Animation Aesthetics

PowerPoint allows a great deal of customization to be incorporated into the slide show. This gives the presenter an opportunity to liven his presentation up a bit, but also give the opportunity and temptation to drastically abuse these features. The two most commonly abused features are the slide transitions and text animation.

The use of page transitions allows the presenter to fade between two slides, spin or sweep the previous slide away, or even to “peel” it aside with a “page turn” effect. Some presenters get carried away with this, usually by incorporating two or more transition effects which makes the presentation appear almost childish. Use extreme caution when utilizing this feature. The best method for its use is uniformity. For example, if you begin by using a “page turn” effect, use it for each transition. Text animation is another feature that can easily be abused or misused. These animations allow the presenter to have text, for example, slide in from one side or the other of the presentation slide, taking up residence in the appropriate location on the slide. As with page transitions, the temptation is to over use and mix the text animations, giving an unprofessional image of the presenter and the presentation. Once again, caution is strongly advised. Rule three is simple to draw from these points: use page transitions and text animation sparingly, if at all.

Multimedia Aesthetics

A third area of concern on the aesthetics of a presentation is in the use of multimedia resources. The appropriate use of multimedia resources is important enough that, as you notice, I am giving it a section of its own. In most formal business presentations, multimedia resource use is limited if not entirely absent. Exceptions to exist in cases where the multimedia would give the presentation additional impact, as in the case, for example, of showing the audience a specific event (real or staged) or sharing a clip from a relevant interview or news report.

Another area of exception is in marketing presentations. Often, PowerPoint presentations are sent to prospective clients or customers as a form of video brochure. In these, the use of music, verbal recordings, and timed presentation animations are incorporated to automate the entire presentation. This technique is used at times for other purposes, but marketing is the most common use. This leaves us with our next basic rule: use multimedia only where and how it is appropriate.

Structural Aesthetics

These are simple, basic topics, taken straight from web page development and desktop publishing rules. As such, they may seem to be common sense items, but then again, is common sense very common? Use a pleasing, distraction-free background for your slides. The more formal the presentation, the more conservative your choice in backgrounds should be. Using a full-color photograph as your background may seem like an interesting idea, but keep in mind the affect it will have on your text readability. If the background makes your text illegible, rethink its use. Fonts are another structural aesthetic that is often over looked. In preparing presentation slides, double the size font you would normally use. Remember, your audience in a presentation environment is not sitting as close to the screen as you are. Making the font larger enables them to read the text more easily. Also, avoid the use of fancy fonts such as script or calligraphy. These are very difficult to read at a distance. Times New Roman for the text body and Arial for titles are the two most commonly recommended fonts.

Lastly, make sure to use font colors that will be readable on your chosen background. Keep in mind that some people are color blind. Avoid using red letters on green or green letters on red, for example. Also, it is usually best to use a dark-color font over a light-color background. This reduces the potential for straining the eyes of your viewers.

The Final Word

As you can see, taking into account a few simple tips can dramatically aid you in preparing your PowerPoint presentation. Perhaps the most important one though is to always, always, ALWAYS spell check and edit your work. A single spelling or grammar error can ruin the effectiveness of a presentation that took you hours or even days to prepare. And, if worse comes to worse, you could always ask for help.

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