Pardon the title of this posting, but apparently, it did get your attention.

MS PowerPoint IconI held an informal training program a few years ago about how to create PowerPoint presentations that were engaging, accessible and professional-looking. I decided to make my point more dramatic by showing a couple of clips of videos created by professional comedian, Don McMillan on the theme “Death by PowerPoint.”

In the first thirty seconds of his video, “Life After Death by PowerPoint,” Mr. McMillan makes the most noteworthy point. That point is: PowerPoints – or any presentational materials – are NOT speaker notes! No one wants to sit in a room where someone reads the presentation content from the screen in front of you.

A recent article on Macworld by Joe Kissell makes a number the same points that Don McMillan makes in the video, though Kissell take a more pro-active and professional approach to the topic. His brief article, “The secret to great presentations: it’s not about the software” focuses on the things you CAN do to make you presentations more appealing and effective. Kissell notes, “Nobody watches an Apple keynote to see the slides…Sure, there’ll be some interesting photos, charts, and statistics. But those are there only to supplement and reinforce what the speakers say. Or consider politicians, preachers, comedians, and TED presenters, all of whom convey the bulk of their messages with speech alone. The essence of your talk is the words you say, not what you put on the screen.” He later adds, “You don’t want your audience to say, ‘Wow, what great Keynote skills that presenter had!’ You want them to remember what you said.”

So armed with these two sources and my own extensive experience of being both a presenter and a victim, I’ve made a list DO’s and DON’T regarding how to create presentations that doesn’t suck.

Here they are:

DOs

  1. DO use fewer words and fewer bullets per page.
  2. DO use iconic words and images that enhance the experience (think Steve Jobs – see below).
  3. DO use words and images that make your point.
  4. If you have to convey lots of detailed information – DO give them a handout – preferably BEFORE you speak.

DON’Ts

  1. PowerPoints are NOT handouts. Don’t distribute them as such.
  2. PowerPoints are NOT speaker notes. Don’t read them to your audience.
  3. Your audience came to hear YOU speak. The PowerPoint supports your oral presentation. DON’T hide behind your presentation slides.
  4. Your audience did not come to see a cartoon show. DON’T use meaningless animations.

I recently shared some of these less-is-more observations in an on-line discussion and had some folks strenuously argue back that, in certain circumstances, having long wordy or graphically intensive presentation slides were not only acceptable, but preferred.

I didn’t get into an argument – the only thing worse than a bad PowerPoint presentation is an on-line pissing match. But I can think of absolutely no situation where staring at long sentences and/or complex images displayed on the wall of a meeting room while someone is speaking at me is ever helpful.

If you have important diagrams or charts or graphs of extensive data, doesn’t it make more sense to give the participants the actual documents (preferably before the meeting) so that they can enlarge and examine them carefully?

I ended my PowerPoint training program with the iconic and always imaginative Steve Jobs demonstrating the (then) new product, the Mac Book Air. In one small gesture, Jobs communicated a construct that was unforgettable. I’ve attached the video below. You only have to watch the first 38 second. I’ll bet you won’t forget it.