Presenting with PPT: What Not to Do

As audience members, we all respond to informational stimuli in varying ways. Some of us, the auditory learners, can absorb the message simply by listening.  But the majority of us are not that way—we need additional channels conveying information.  This is where PowerPoint has made its impact, as a visual purveyor of information that supplements, not supplants, a speaker.  The problem is that many presenters rely too heavily on the use of (poorly designed) slides. 

Here is how to effectively utilize a slide deck in your next presentation so that you don’t risk losing your audience to the projected pixels.  Put bluntly, here are four steps that you can use to not suck at presenting with PowerPoint.

1. Don’t talk to the slide.

If you’re trying to provide information to and/or persuade your audience, there isn’t a better way to turn people off than to avoid eye contact with them.  Eye contact is the number one indicator of honesty and trust.  The messages you sending when you look at the slide instead of your audience are: (1) I think the slide is more interesting and more important than you and (2) I am woefully unprepared because I have a need to constantly engage with a projected image.  Neither of which are messages that a speaker should (at least in my opinion) want to send.  

2. Use images liberally.

A picture is worth a thousand words.  Yes, I just used a cliché. Think of presentations that you remember, or things that trigger your memory.  More likely than not at least one of those contained an image that is poignant and purposeful.  Utilize images in your slides, but make sure the images have meaning.  Just because you think pictures of puppies and kitties are great additions to give your audience a warm fuzzy feeling doesn’t mean that they will help your credibility as a speaker (nor will they help your audience remember your message).

3. Interact with the technology.

If you have a slide that has a chart or infographic and you’re discussing a certain aspect of that image, interact with it!  There is nothing wrong with pointing at, walking up to, or gesturing at a slide.  There is something wrong with reading from one.  Make the slide a part or your presentation—integrate it—instead of making it a stand-alone.  This leads into my final tip.

4. Be esoteric (when appropriate).

Unless you have a specific quote or selection of information that you need to repeat word-for-word a good policy is to be esoteric.  This means that people should not be able to gain an understanding of your presentation by simply looking at the slides.  If they can, what do they need you for?  There is a lot to be said for clean, simple design.  Plus, if participants can read what you’re going to say off of a slide (and it’s proven that we can read faster than we can speak), what’s to keep your audience from ignoring you or tuning you out and checking Twitter?  Yep. Not much. 

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