[Presentation Zen] So, is it finally time to ditch PowerPoint? Hardly, but it is long past time to ditch the use of the ubiquitous bulleted-list templates found in both PowerPoint and Keynote. And it’s long past time that we realized that putting the same information on a slide that is coming out of our mouths usually does not help — in fact usually hurts our message.

I can’t tell you how many presentations that I’ve been tortured sat through where a presenter will completely overload a slide and just read from it. If you sit in the back and watch, you’ll quickly find that:

  1. folks are focused on writing down what’s on the slides.
  2. folks are reading email, blogging, instant messaging or surfing.
  3. folks are sleeping.

Regardless, no one is listening to you.

Whenever I’m asked to make slides or talk to a group, I always try to keep in mind some basic guidelines which are qualities that I admire most when listening to great presenters (such as Garr Renolds, Guy Kawasaki, Ben Saunders and Steve Jobs). These include:

  1. Use great stock photography
  2. Follow the 10/20/30 rule (watch the video)
  3. Limit text and keep it simple (plus more tips from Garr)
  4. Visual Simplicity
  5. Have a conversation and tell a story

While most of these things obvious, it’s amazing how many times I sit through presentations that are the exact opposite of this.


    Mary-Louise (April 10, 2007 @ 9:34 am)

    I work for Guy Kawasaki. Thanks for your comment about Guy and the link to his blog posting: The 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint!


    Brandon (April 10, 2007 @ 10:17 am)

    I use Powerpoint in my Sunday night worship/discussion service to highlight my major points or to emphasize key phrases that I’d like remembered. For my 5 minute piece I never have more than 10 slides (unless I’m trying to make a point through excesses) and all of them must be well layed-out and designed. The biggest problem I’ve run into, though, is finding good stock photography for free. I’ve used the CC license search to find my photos and that’s worked most of the time so far. But there have been a few times where I simply could not find the photo to match the feeling I was looking for.

    Where else can you turn to find legal, free, high-quality photography for non-profit uses? It’s hard to find all three of those things, but I want to keep legit, especially since I don’t appreciate my photos being used by others without permission.

    Steve (April 10, 2007 @ 4:54 pm)

    Wow! 10 slides for 5 minutes!

    Personally, I try to hit the 10-12 slides for 25 minutes mark. For 5 minutes, I’d go down to 2.

    For good free stock photos, check out http://everystockphoto.com

    Bianca (April 10, 2007 @ 11:06 pm)

    There are presentations that you give in front of a major audience and then there are presentations that you give in a meeting. Both scenarios are different and what a slide deck is needed to convey is very different. In front of a large crowd, it is about the personality on stage and the story they are telling – they are selling themselves more than the idea. When you are in a boardroom, the needs are very, very different. Sometimes you have a leader than needs to see detailed architecture or detailed numbers.

    I think it is a bit weak to say lets get rid of PowerPoint. I think you need to think about your audience and then have the right presentation for that audience. In some cases it is an eloquent PPT presentation that Jobs would give or maybe it is a full detailed specification boiled down to a slide deck that can be consumed without having to read a word document. Sometimes it is going over the sales numbers for your division.

    Don’t ditch PowerPoint — ditch listening to the one-shoe-fits-all-mentality and look at your audience and pick the right tools for the job.

    Ben Saunders (April 10, 2007 @ 11:16 pm)

    Thanks for the link! I’m honoured to be listed in such company. Five great tips, and I couldn’t agree more (although the amazing Lawrence Lessig did a great job with no photography at all – http://www.lessig.org/freeculture/free.html )

    Brandon (April 11, 2007 @ 6:10 am)

    I should clarify…

    My average slide count is around 4. Most of my slides are simply pictures emphasizing whatever I’m talking about at that moment. We recently had a service concerning treatment of the poor and I had a transition background of various well-shot photos of homeless people. There are often times I don’t have any text on my slides and other times where I have a few slides worth of verses that we’re covering. (You can’t simply summarize bible verses when you’re doing a worship service; you need the whole piece.)

    It mostly depends on what our subject is and what kind of point I’m trying to make. I had a 100+ slide presentation once for my 5 minutes, but again it was a fast-moving slideshow of photos of victims of the 9/11 attacks – the excess was meant to emphasize the breadth of the issue.

    Steve (April 11, 2007 @ 7:51 am)

    Ben, that one is awesome. I find that most presentations forget about typography, and how important that is. In Lessig’s, the font and text is the photography. :)

    I also really like Dick Hardt’s presentation on identity 2.0 at OSCON 2005: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RrpajcAgR1E

    Steve (April 11, 2007 @ 7:56 am)

    Bianca, I hear you and agree with what you’re saying – always use the right tool and style for your audience. The problem is that most presenters use PowerPoint or Keynote to *give* their presentation, not aid them.

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