Tuesday, November 26, 2013

12 Secrets to More Effective PowerPoint Slides

How did you learn to create a presentation slide deck?  When? Where? 

I’m kind of blown away by how much presentations have changed since I began doing them and how the possibilities, resources and norms have changed too.  The old “seven lines seven words” thinking has been replaced by practical practices emerging from the research on learning and of course more bandwidth and cheap storage (like those nifty flash drives).

When I first discovered SlideShare I was so excited. (wahoo!) I finally had a place to put my slide decks online and share them .. that is until I looked at some of the spectacular slide decks appearing on the home page!  One glance told me everything I had learned had changed and I had some more learning to do before I was going to post any slides! Since then I’ve worked hard to learn and integrate a different set of practices. See what fits for you and teach me (please) what you’ve learned too.

1.  Don’t turn the computer on.
Start developing your slides offline. Why? If you go directly to the computer to develop your content, you may find yourself developing a document instead of a slide deck. It seems to me to be far easier and even faster if I sit down with sticky notes and a pencil and start by brainstorming the content.  No qualifying just pure brainstorming. When done brainstorming, cluster into segments, trim, and then sequence the segments into something that makes sense and has meaning. Think about the audience, what do you know about them (or need to find out)? What’s the purpose and outcome? Be sure to jot these down for later (number 11).  Do this BEFORE turning your computer on or opening your software.

2. Make it your own– customize or create your own unique template.
Rather than use the standard (overused) templates, consider adjusting them or creating your own. If this feels overwhelming, click over to Slideshare and roam around for a little while for some ideas and inspiration.  Choose a color scheme (try www.kuler.adobe.com or  www.colorhunter.com). Then choose a font set.  You can choose from abundance of fonts already on your computer just put them into your own combination.  I’ve learned to use a foundation of three.  A basic font, a bold impact font and an accent font. Use the Master View to make [and save] these adjustments.

3. Go BIG.

When you put words on your slides go BIG. Not $50 words but make the words you use big.  The default size in PowerPoint is not nearly big enough. A good rule to follow is nothing smaller than 32 point size and stay with about 7 words or less on the slide. This is usually where we figure out whether our slides are for the audience or for us [presenter crutch]. Go into the Master View and adjust the fonts bigger and adjust based on your content.


4. No Bullet Points. 

Yes, that’s right. No bullets points. First, bullet points are not helpful to the learner (participant, attendee). What’s happening in the brain is like what happens when you try to play an online video and you’re on a slow connection, right? You’ve probably had it happen where the video plays a bit, stops (buffering) and then plays a bit and stops (buffering), over and over again until the end.  This is sort of what happens in your brain.  You can either listen or process the visuals but not both at the same time.  The cognitive load (the work the brain has to do to understand) becomes too much and the whole process falters. You may have had the experience of mentally (or even physically) checking out during a cognitively heavy presentation. Bottom line, bullet points are not interesting so don’t use them.

The exceptions? Okay, there’s at least one bit of research that allows an exception.  According to research (Clark/Kwinn) bullet points work well for listing learning objectives but otherwise they do nothing to support the learner.  Rather than put all the objectives on the screen at the same time, use animation to build them in one at a time, using as few words as possible, pause slightly for read time, then describe the objective. The other place I use them is the Reference or Resources slides at the end.  Its a practical thing for me … I don’t present these slides but use them as the afterthought to list of citations and resources. This helps participants and others who stumble upon the slides online.

5. Go Visual!

You’ve probably heard the old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words, right, well now we know why — Vision trumps all other senses! (Medina). Visuals communicate with the brain quicker and faster than words. Why? Our brain works a lot harder when it reads since it is actually reading each letter, clustering letters into words, and then makes meaning (cognitive load again).  Recall and recognition are way better with visuals. So, look for ways to communicate your concept or ideas with visuals.

There are lots of great resources for images, some free and some for a fee.  Creative Commons licensing has helped a lot and you can find an abundance of those on Flickr (just do an advanced search and check the creative commons box).  I’ll also suggest www.shutterstock.com and www.istockphoto.com. While these come at a cost they are reasonable and great for building your visual library. Pay attention to the licensing to be sure the way you are using the images fits with the license. In my work the standard license fits most often.

6. No Clip Art.

Clip art is a throwback to the early days of PowerPoint when storage was expensive and bandwidth was barely on our radar scope.  Use it ONLY if you want come across to your audience as outdated rather than outstanding.

7. Use Animation with purpose.

Animation can help you build a sequence or show a series of things on a slide but misuse is common.  Not all things need movement.  Use animation when you have a reason, a purpose to do so like building on ideas, walking through a complicated sequence of events or when doing so enhances the learning experience.

8. Integrate interaction.

Some of the best and most “sticky” presentations I’ve learned from wove in participation with the audience in not one but two ways. First, engaging with and responding to the presenter and second, talking with and learning from other participants. The more we engage each other the more likely we are to have a memorable experience. How’s it done? Try polling the audience for information that helps you present your content. Ask a thought-filled question and give participants a couple of quiet minutes to think about it and make some notes. Then have them talk to each other about what they wrote down. Harvest a sample from the audience.  Interaction is good for the brain and good for making new people connections (networking) too.

9. Adopt a conversational style.
In my experience, most formal presentations are boring. Why? The presenter is often the expert reading from what s/he has prepared or worse, reading from the slides!  Any time you happen to be the person standing at front of the room — remember to be yourself, bring who you are into your presentation.  Everyone benefits from a more human, conversational style. Know your material well enough that you can engage throughout, take interruptions without losing your place and field questions comfortably. Presentations and workshops are really conversations where we have the opportunity to learn together.

10. Go Social.

If you haven’t begun to get social with your presentations yet, you’re missing out on a remarkable experience. All too often we attend conferences and events and most of what happens there – like Vegas – stays there!  If you integrate social media you can take your topic outside the four walls of the event and engage people across the Web and back. Doing so often means making new connections and engaging with others who share your passion for the work. In my mind it is a matter of degrees. You can go social with some simple things like a blog post on your workshop topic, post your slide deck to slideshare.net, and/or use Facebook or Twitter to post an idea or quotation (resonate or controversial). Do a screen capture of a key slide and post it to Pinterest. Most important is that you establish your social presence so you can engage others on the topics or ideas that have heart and meaning for you. While technology is fast, social takes time to nurture and grow.

11. Remember the Call to Action

Remember the very first step when you wrote down the purpose and outcome of your presentation?  Reflect back to that statement and consider what you’ll ask participants to do next.  Maybe you’d like them to visit your website or blog or perhaps you want them to download an article or resource or maybe you’re encouraging them to join you in an online community where you can engage and learn more together? Always remember to put a call to action at the closing to help participants get the most from their time with you. This can also be part of going social since you can post products, information, resource lists or other posts that are shareworthy (meaning people can share easily with others).

12. Don’t use your slides as handouts.

When PowerPoint came along with that nifty “print as handout” feature something strange started to happen. We started putting more information on the slides since they’d also be the handout.  In the process our slides became documents. Not good.  I suggest creating a separate handout that IS a document in lieu of using your slides the handout. I realize this is controversial and runs against the norm but it feels important to keep these things separate in order to keep us from turning what could be dynamic, interesting slides into documents. Besides, unless you’ve followed #3, the slides may well be too small to be readable once printed as a handout.

I had a friend challenge me (in a good way) on this thinking (#12).  She said she likes the slides printed three to a page (even when they are images with few words) because when she takes notes she connects the image to her notes/ideas.  I see the point and in fact have used this method of remembering too.  What do you think?  Do you like to have the slide deck printed as a handout to take notes on?  Which do you prefer? 

Okay, I’ve offered the gift of my thinking and experiences … it’s your turn.  What works or doesn’t work in your experience with developing presentations? What’s missing here and needs to be added?
What helps you hold and integrate and continue to use ideas long after a presentation is over?

Note: This post is cross-posted at www.ladonnacoy.com


Mike Magney said...

I appreciate the points you've made and am always glad to learn of new resources for quality images. I dislike presentations during which the presenter reads from the slides, especially if I've paid to see the presentation.
I have mixed feelings about printing slides as handouts. If the slide are the presentation, I become annoyed. If the slide support a dynamic, stimulating presentation, I don't mind them and like to jot short notes on the pages. I am unable to keep up with presentations when the speaker gives an oral bullet list, if you will, of points that are not in the slide deck. As you pointed out, I can listen or I can write, but I lose a great deal of information when I try to do both.
Thanks for the post.

coyenator said...

Hi Mike,

I feel a lot like you do on these issues. I find that when I take notes, even on the slides-as-handout I've often been so brief with them that I can't really make much sense of them when I go back and review after the conference. That was what led me to offering the separate handout to begin with, that and having more visual slides. The other slide issue is if you have transitions or layers on your slides you'd have to a) print a lot of transitional pages or b) rework the slides into a printable handout. I'm not sure but the latter may be quicker and easier than a completely separate handout? I think I'll do some testing during 2014 and see what conference/workshop participants have to say :) Thx for the comments.