Embracing the Power of PowerPoint

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I hold a pretty controversial business view: I love Microsoft PowerPoint and believe it has the potential to convert skeptics into believers. A solid design, the right balance of confident storytelling and on-screen text, and thoughtful video or graphics can make my heart flutter. I understand, though, why there are many detractors: Some of the templates have been used ad nauseum, many of us never received formal training on what makes a good presentation, and a few of the features (I’m looking at you, WordArt and pinwheel animation.) could have been retired a while back. And we have likely all had a colleague attempt to test the limits of our eyesight and patience by drafting a short novel on one slide.

So why am I advocating for PowerPoint? A well-constructed presentation can reinforce – or better yet, enhance – the story you’re verbally telling. Its format also allows it to live on after the presentation ends; disseminating slides after conferences or meetings is common practice among many of my clients. PowerPoint has also advanced its embedding tools in the past five years, allowing presenters to more seamlessly add multimedia elements. Lastly, it’s a widely accessible tool. PowerPoint has been around since 1987, and much of the current workforce uses it – or attempts to, at least.

If you’re ready to unlock the power of PowerPoint to make your presentation more memorable, here are a few foundational tips:

Unique templates, plentiful formats

Have you seen the same generic template over and over again? Or is your staff using whatever theme strikes their fancy on a given day? Investing in the creation of a branded template with your organization’s colors, fonts, images, and logo embedded into the master theme is worth it. With one template, the whole team will present a cohesive look to the world and ensure your brand’s integrity. I also try adding interest by creating slides with both light and dark background colors, varying text alignment, and including agenda progression slides that serve as a roadmap for the audience to keep them engaged.

Heavy on visuals, light on text

If you’ve ever watched a TED Talk, you know that presenters frequently use PowerPoint (or Keynote, a similar but less widespread program) to help drive their message home. Often, the slides contain just a single image, word, or sentence. While I’m not recommending you remove all text from all slides, consider the words you want your audience to remember, and include just those. Consider these points to be the ones your audience will write down and what you hope will stick with them after your presentation ends.

When it comes to visuals, photos are a striking way to help you tell your story, but remember to give credit to the photographer. Sites such as Unsplash and Pexels can provide you with a wealth of free-use photos, searchable by subject. Including branded infographics, simple graphs/charts and icons (the modern take on clip art) can draw an audience in, as well. Just make sure everyone can easily read all of the text and numbers you’re planning to include or want to highlight. PowerPoint comes with a helpful SmartArt feature to make content more appealing for items such as lists and processes, but don’t attempt to use it as smoke and mirrors to distract from a lack of clear message.

No matter your combination of text and graphics, ask a strong editor for a second set of eyes – a capable proofreader can ensure error-free content. Seeing a typo projected on a large screen can erode credibility and detract from the presenter’s story.

Know your work, know your room

Public speaking incites fear in many – including me, a communicator by trade! However, using the content on PowerPoint slides or your notes section as a “read-aloud” limits your ability to connect with your audience. Know your content well, and practice as many times as needed to really own your presentation. Reading text verbatim may lead to a memorable experience for the wrong reasons. Always be ready to speak to any slide you present with confidence and competence.

It may seem minor, but position yourself for success by learning about the room long before you enter. Having a sense of the answers to the following questions helps calm my jitters:

  • Will my presentation be projected in standard or widescreen format?
  • How is the room set up?
  • Where will I be standing in relation to the screen?
  • Is someone available to help with my A/V needs, such as connecting to the projector and playing video?

Embracing the power

Consider hiring a consultant who is well-versed in turning drab presentations into compelling tools to incite curiosity or move audiences to act. With a few adjustments, you, too, can more fully embrace the power of PowerPoint.

Gretchen is a marketing and PR consultant specializing in integrated communications campaigns for nonprofits, small businesses, and local government.

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