It happens to everyone, eventually. Even the most shut-in engineer has to
show his work to a large group. Even the most technically inclined student has
to talk about his research. Most managers, co-workers and peers are attracted
to shiny things, and will recommend the use of Microsoft PowerPoint.
I will try to keep this write-up free of Microsoft bashing, since
PowerPoint is not being critiqued as an application. No rants about the
Office Assistant or "Micro$oft bloatware" will be included. That said, on with
Do You Need PowerPoint?
Although PowerPoint is quickly becoming the de facto standard in offices
and educational institutions, it is not always necessary. Talk to who's
requesting the presentation. Should it be less than 10 minutes in length? Is
the format that of a lecture, or a discussion? Discussions tend to be more
free-ranging, and cannot be captured with just a few slides. If you expect
people to take notes, or want people to notice a set of core topics, PowerPoint
might be better suited for the task.
Obviously, Microsoft PowerPoint isn't the only thing that you can use; these
tips generally apply to other programs like Corel Presentations as well.
Information: Less Is More
PowerPoint slides are not cue cards. Remember that the audience should
listen to you, not read the screen. If you find yourself writing entire
sentences as bullet points, stop. Resist the temptation to write excessively
long points. Write just enough to remind yourself of what you should say.
Remember that PowerPoint allows you to annotate your slides. When
printed, these notes appear below your slide on the printed page. Write any
topics that you should cover or avoid on these notes. Your notes are not a
script: your audience will become detached if you stare at a paper the entire
Quotations should be used sparingly. It can be difficult to read several
lines of text on a projector screen, especially in a large sans serif font.
If you absolutely need to use a quote, write it in your notes and read it out loud.
People read printed text at different speeds, but they will pay more attention to you if
you're giving the information directly.
Limit your use of clip art. Avoid using the images supplied with
PowerPoint; most people in your audience have seen them already. The Microsoft
Clip Gallery Live web site has some new content that might be more relevant to
your presentation. It is recommended that you use images that might be more
directly related to your presentation, such as logos.
Be careful with screen shots. Even though your audience
will be able to see the screen clearly, computer applications are generally not
made to be viewed from such long distances. Additionally, screen shots are
bitmap images. When you view them in full-screen mode, they
will look different. When expanded, they will look blocky. A
screen shot is a good way to give users the general layout of your
application's UI, but don't expect them to be able to read any text or
Don't include external media. PowerPoint allows you to
embed many types of files in a presentation, including MP3 audio and
QuickTime video. Please don't. Even if you're making the presentation from
your own laptop, expect something to go wrong. First of all, PowerPoint
displays a warning message when it is about to launch an external application
(this is to prevent presentations from launching trojan horses). Once you
click OK to approve the application being launched, there will be a five to
ten second delay. If you can talk through this, fine. Extra dialogs will
often launch. Winamp will remind you to download the latest version unless
explicitly told not to. QuickTime Player ever since version 4 displays a
registration nag screen most of the time. Windows Media Player 7 and
RealPlayer have absolutely beastly interfaces. All of this
distracts the audience, and may draw some derisive snickers. If there are
any Windows haters or Apple haters in the house, expect them to pipe up.
Unless your presentation is explicitly about a multimedia project, any sort of
audio or video is unnecessary.
Addendum, courtesy danila: Here is a good way to use Winamp without problems: Start it prior to PowerPoint and minimise it. Then launch PowerPoint. Make the MP3 start when you click some object (you can make the background image a large clickable object). In this case the app is running already and the music will start immediately. It is wise (if any sounds are used) to check the volume beforehand. Laptop speakers should be set to max volume. The movies should actually be embedded in the presentation (AVIs or MPEGs). Then there should be no problem with external apps (this applies only if you use your own laptop).
Get Off the Internet
While you are presenting, there is no need to have a network connection of any kind unless you wish to show a web site or other network-based content. Remove wireless networking cards, unplug Ethernet cables, and hang up the modem. During the presentation, you don't want your computer spontaneously downloading software updates, receiving instant messages, or alerting you to the fact that you have new mail. Imagine how shocked I was when I saw Kevin Mitnick give a presentation only to be bothered by ZoneAlarm alerts about SQL Server outbound connection attempts. At least he didn't leave AIM running, as I've seen at least one person do during a presentation.
Hold It Right There
PowerPoint allows for a variety of slide transitions and animation
features. It is almost never appropriate to use them. If the
audience has never seen a PowerPoint presentation before, they will ooh and
aah at the little graphical effects. If the audience has seen one before,
they will groan at your attempt to look cool.
If you don't want your audience to read your points ahead of time, use the
"Appear" animation effect. This allows each point to appear after a certain
amount of time, or when you click the mouse. This is the only
animation that should ever be used with text. cordelia makes a good point about using animations to introduce graphics.
Be wary of using such animation too often, especially if you will not
necessarily be standing by the computer the entire time. The audience will
grow tired of your constant clicking, and you run the risk of talking ahead
of your points. Rapid clicking to catch up is simply distracting.
If you ever use the "Random transition" or "Random
animation" options, I will strike you dead.
Do not use sound effects to accompany animations. They might break the
ice by showing your playful side, but they get old very
fast. As your twelfth bullet point zooms, screeches, or zaps into view,
your audience will want to throttle you. Besides, expect to have audio
problems. It's entirely too easy to forget to plug the sound in, or to set the
volume incorrectly, or to have the wrong audio source selected. Your audience
hates to be deafened by cheesy sound effects.
PowerPoint provides a wide array of navigation shortcuts for use during presentations. To see them, right-click in Slide Show view and click "Help." Memorize the most useful ones, or write them down on an index card for quick reference. Here are a few that I use a lot:
- Up, Page Up, Mouse Wheel Up - Previous Slide
- Down, Page Down, Mouse Wheel Down, Left-Click - Next Slide
- Type number and press ENTER - go to a specific slide. There is no visual feedback as you enter the number.
- B - Blank screen. Displays a black screen. Useful if you want the audience to stop reading.
- W - White screen. Displays a white screen. Similar to 'B', but less jarring if your presentation has a white background.1
- A - Hide pointer. Makes the on-screen arrow cursor go away. The cursor will normally disappear if not moved for a few seconds.1
- CTRL-P - Pen mode. Lets you write on your presentation like John Madden would. Not recommended for many laptop pointing devices.
- E - Erase pen marks.
- Esc - Terminate slide show.
- F5 - Start slide show.
1 Thanks to TallRoo for adding these.
Are You Ready?
I cannot stress this enough. Rehearse your presentation at least twice all
the way through, in the company of at least one other person. If possible,
rehearse on the same projector that you will use for the actual presentation. If text is hard to
read, tweak the fonts and color scheme. If your voice echoes through the
room, speak slowly. Practice your timings: if you feel like you're spending
too much time on a slide, consider breaking it up into different slides.
Enunciate. Speaking to a large room is not the same as speaking
face-to-face. Don't ramble. Your slides are there to guide you. Remember
that you have a time limit, and you want to allow time for Q&A.
Remember to introduce yourself if your audience doesn't know you personally,
and to thank them for their time at the end. These are simple formalities,
but are considered polite.
What if the projector breaks? What if your laptop crashes? Can you pick up
where you left off? While it's not always feasible to simulate these
situations, be prepared for them. Have paper handy; transparencies may be
useful if you can set up an overhead projector in less than one minute.
(That's one minute from the moment the laptop projector stops working.)
Relax! Don't be too uptight; your audience is your friend, not your target.
Be prepared to field questions at any time, even before you ask "Any
questions?" If you have a Palm, grab a copy of BigClock and use the
stopwatch feature to time yourself. If you are asked to do a 20-minute
presentation, ask "Any questions?" and shut up when your stopwatch hits
15:00. If the presentation is scheduled for 30 minutes, take 20. Your
audience should be allowed to ask questions without fear of being cut off. If
you are giving a presentation as part of a long string, it is important not to
drag. If you go over, everyone else does, too.
PowerPoint is a very useful tool for presentations, but the potential for
abuse is very real. Do not use it to insult your audience's intelligence, or
undermine your own. If you use it effectively, you will impress your
co-workers or superiors. If you don't, they will fall asleep.