Back in the office, but need to avoid the old traps - The Pickering Group

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We may be back in the office, but we need to avoid the old traps

Now that we’re back in the office – and presenting in person more again, hooray! – many of the old bad habits are popping up again. Already, many of us are suffering from ‘Death by PowerPoint’. You may even have been guilty of perpetrating it.

PowerPoint presentations have become a cultural norm; as soon as we hear we’ll be presenting, we jump straight into slides, not stopping to consider what our objective is or what our messaging needs to be. The result is often a visual deck with no link to any underlying point or intention. Other symptoms include boring, time-wasting presentations, less credibility and poor-quality communication.

However, all is not lost. As with most things, it’s not visual aid software that’s the problem – it’s how we use it. It’s possible to mitigate the risks of ‘Death by PowerPoint’ for our presentations, and ourselves. We do this by considering both context and content.

Cures for context

Think about the physical spaces in which you’re presenting – the boardroom or training rooms. In my experience, most are biased toward displays of slides rather than human connection.

There’s a long rectangular table with chairs around it. At prime position at the head of the table is a giant screen – dominating the spot where a presenter should be. Most screen positions push the presenter off to the side. One guess what this tells an audience about where the most important information is going to be coming from…

The first cure is kicking your slideshow to the side and taking centre stage.

Cures for content

Too many presenters design their slides as documents, rather than visual aids. In jumping straight to their slides, their visual deck develops as they’re working out the content itself. Take a beat and begin constructing your slides only after you have your big idea and core content sorted. This way you’ll have a greater chance of creating slides that aid your message, rather than just repeating it.

Other tips for designing great slides include:

  • Make your handouts or pre-reads different. Handouts are distinct from your slides. While your handouts have details that the audience can absorb in their own time; your slides highlight your key points and reinforce you as the presenter.
  • Create slides that reinforce your message, not just repeat it. Your slides shouldn’t act as a teleprompter to keep you on track, but should instead include simple visuals or key words that reinforce your ideas.
  • Highlight meaning. Your slides aren’t just for data; they’re for depicting the meaning of that data to your audience. You might use simple animation or different colours to make your charts decipherable. The goal is that your audience can comprehend it at a quick glance (less than three seconds).
  • Use bullets sparingly. A simple rule is 1-5-5: One idea per slide, five lines per slide, five words per line.
  • Use good quality images. Try to avoid cliches and ClipArt and check nothing is stretched, blurry, or pixelated.
  • Avoid fancy effects, like animations and transitions. They’re cheesy and distracting.
  • Make the most of your title slide. The slide that kicks off your presentation is usually up on screen for a while, as everyone settles into the room. It’s valuable real estate, so skip the yawn-y, obvious title and take something from your big idea to tease interest instead. 
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