Friends Don’t Let Friends Use PowerPoint

Actually, PowerPoint has its virtues. It’s a useful process to help the speaker assemble and organize comments, and to talk without notes. It gives the speaker something to hide behind, which could be good.

But, do the slides have to be so boring?  Does each slide have to have every syllable the speaker is about to say? Does every presentation require 76 slides?  Check out Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery (Voices That Matter) by Garr Reynolds for great ways to prepare slides.


PowerPoint and the 10/20/30 Rule*

A good rule for making a presentation is to follow the 10/20/30 guideline:

-Use no more than 10 PowerPoint slides,

-Speak no longer than 20 minutes,

-Set your type in the slides to no smaller than 30 point font.

*I stole this tip directly from Guy Kawasaki, one of the early and brightest stars at Apple and now a venture capitalist and columnist.

Effective PowerPoint

The next zombie movie Hollywood will shoot is based on an auditorium of people who had to watch a PowerPoint presentation.

PowerPoint Presentations are always too long, with too many words on too many slides.

Keep going through the slides and eliminate words, bullets, pages, graphics and anything else you find.  The goal is to have a few key words set in 30 point font or larger.  Try to keep it to 10 slides.

Edit ferociously.

Visuals in PowerPoint Tricky

Steve Jobs Apple product introductions were extravaganzas. There are countless lessons from how he did what he did. Here’s one on PowerPoint:

In some presentations, Steve Jobs had a total of seven words in 10 slides. He lets visuals do the work.

Try hard to express yourself more visually in your PowerPoint slides without using gratuitous photos and illustrations. Avoid bullets.  This is easier said than done.  Steve Jobs had a huge team of graphic designers to help him create the perfect visual. If you don’t have such a team working for you, it might be better to just have simple type slides with powerful colors.

Make PowerPoint More Powerful

A researcher who studies PowerPoint reports that people were better able to recall the main message of slides when presented with a full-sentence headline written as an assertion rather than a word or phrase headline.

“Strong eye contact persuades the audience you are confident” is a more powerful message than “strong eye contact = confidence” for example.

You Don’t Always Need PowerPoint

When my friend was leaving the ad agency where we both worked, he threw a party and gave a slide show about his experiences at the firm.  With each slide he described vivid scenes in detail.  But, the screen was blank. He never went to the trouble of actually making slides.

To this day when any of us get together to reminisce, we talk about that slide show. No one recalls that the slides were blank.  We each remember the colorful story that was painted.

PowerPoint is a crutch. You can create memorable pictures with words.

Slides vs. Leave-Behinds

The dilemma that many presenters bring upon themselves is that they want their presentation slides to double as their leave-behind material.

An effective PowerPoint uses sparse language and powerful pictures to dramatize what the speaker is discussing.

A good leave-behind has pages of detail.

Never the twain shall meet.

How to Write a Presentation

When writing your presentation, don’t use or even think about PowerPoint.

Develop and write what you’re going to say first.  Identify the one thought you want the audience to take away and then determine how PowerPoint can add to the impact with stark graphics that bring a point to life and a few key words that reinforce your message. When you create a presentation in PowerPoint first, it gets very wordy and uses silly visuals that are gratuitous.

You may even find you don’t need PowerPoint at all.

PowerPoint in a Business Pitch

PowerPoint may have its place in a business pitch, but not necessarily in the open and close.

Whenever you use PowerPoint, the audiences’ eyes are staring at the screen.  But, often in the open and close, you want the audience to look at you because you want to connect with them.

In the opening, you want to explain why what you are about to say is important to them.  In the close, you want them to feel confident with you and agree to whatever you propose. An easy way to do this-once the PowerPoint is on the screen, press the letter B on your laptop and the screen goes black.  Hit any key and the screen lights up again.

Don’t look at the screen when presenting

Your audience is much more likely to hear what you have to say, understand what you just said and like you, if you make eye contact with them as you speak.  So you should never make a presentation while staring at the screen.

If you need to look back and see what’s up, do it then face the audience and speak. Better yet is to have a laptop at the podium or on a table so you can refer to it while facing the audience.

But, even with that, it is for reference only.  Hopefully, you know your presentation well enough that you don’t have to read it word by word.

No PowerPoint

A lawyer told me that last year was his best year ever because he stopped using PowerPoint to make pitches and just started talking face to face with prospects. How retro.

There’s nothing wrong with speaking face to face with people.  They are more likely to hear and understand you.  They are more likely to trust you.  Not every occasion requires PowerPoint.

Make PowerPoint Headings More Active

The title on a PowerPoint slide is the very top line. It’s often used as a description of that page, such as  “Agenda”, “Our Team”  or  “Summary”.

Make that heading more active. Instead of “Agenda”, have it read “How we will reach the goal”, for example.

How Important is PowerPoint?

Put a lot more energy and time into your message and words than in creating PowerPoint slides. 


You are the presentation. The slides are just a tool.

Less Slides, More Personality

The more slides in your deck, the less your personality shines in the presentation.

Any hope for passion, impromptu comments, and insight goes out the window because your focus is clicking through slides, not talking to the audience.

Try to keep the slides to about one for each minute you speak.

PowerPoint Can Make You Look more Powerful

This is an easy one. The less time you spend reading your own slides, and the more time you connect with the audience, the stronger and more confident you appear. That means you need to rehearse more for a presentation that uses slides, than for one that doesn’t.

Survival Tool
One small yet powerful tool you should have is a wireless slide changer for PowerPoint.
Now you can walk the stage, hold on to something to calm nerves, and, appear more confident because you’re not constantly breaking the flow of the presentation to ask for the “next slide, please”.