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How to Ace Your Next PowerPoint Presentation

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PowerPoint may get a bad rap, but Microsoft’s premiere slideshow software still works great at its intended purpose: as a visual presentation aide, not as the presentation itself. Admittedly, that’s hard for many of us to do. We’ve become inured to the PowerPoint deck as the star of the show. We rely on our slides to tell a story when we should be the ones telling a story.

Think about the best presentation you’ve ever seen in person. Chances are you remember it because of the energy of the speaker, or the power that he or she channeled into their speech. Do you remember the transition effects used in the PowerPoint? Or the way the words looked on the screen? Probably not.

You might, however, remember a glaring error in a PowerPoint. Maybe mismatched fonts, poorly cropped photos, or blurry graphics caught your eye and distracted you from the message the presenter was trying to deliver. That’s where PowerPoint can do more harm than good — and where a little extra knowledge can make the difference between a good presentation people won’t mind and a great one people will remember.

1. Pay attention to the basics.

Instead, channel your energy into the right kind of important factors: background colors that please the eye; concise bulleted or numbered lists; matching font types, sizes, and colors; and appropriately aligned images. Consider using one of PowerPoint’s built-in templates to let the program do the heavy lifting when it comes to consistency.

2. Don’t start cramming your PowerPoint with unnecessary content.

Yes, it’s easy to copy and paste large chunks of text into your PowerPoint presentation and call it a day. In November, Fast Company columnist Darren Menabney said it best: “Creating busy, text-dense monstrosities is actually easier because you don’t need to think too much. Just throw everything you think you want to say on the slides, hope the audience focuses on them, and let the slides do the heavy lifting.” Instead, think of each slide as the first line of a message you’ll lay out yourself, with brief lists, short, snappy sentences, and appealing graphics to reinforce that story. And if you must include all that supporting information…

3. Print out hard-copy handouts.

As long as it’s affordable and environmentally feasible, consider delivering printed documents (not just print-outs of your slides) to the audience as a supplement to your presentation. If your PowerPoint has to include those important facts, feel free to pack them in here.

4. Use transitions, animations, and sounds sparingly.

If you’ve ever laughed at a headline fly-in or fade effect deployed over and over again in an excruciating PowerPoint presentation, remember that before you sit down to build your own. The last thing you want is a misguided special effect to take away from the strength of your slideshow and your own energy as a presenter.

5. Draw your listeners in immediately.

The most effective way to sell your PowerPoint is by thinking outside the box —right from the very beginning. Capture your co-workers’ attention with an intriguing anecdote or captivating question at the start and you’ll find that their emotional investment will remain high until the end.

6. Speak from the heart — don’t read from the teleprompter.

As marketing guru Seth Godin says, “Slides should reinforce your words, not repeat them.” What you write on your slides for the whole audience to see and read themselves should NOT be repeated verbatim. Instead, use your presentation as jumping-off point for deeper conversation. Encourage interactivity by asking crowd members to stop you with questions during the slideshow. Try to talk like you would at a business lunch: professional, of course, but dynamic enough to keep things interesting.

7. Present like a pro with keyboard shortcuts.

To reinforce the idea that you should be the audience’s main focus, not the screen behind you, deploy a few smooth shortcut moves to command attention. Our favorites include:

  • Press or Enter or Page Down or Right Arrowor Down Arrow or Spacebar to advance to the next slide
  • Press or Page Up or Left Arrow or Up Arrow or Backspace to return to the previous slide
  • Press <number>+Enter to jump to a specific slide number
  • Press or Period to fade to black (or or Comma to fade to white)
  • Press or to stop or restart an automatic slideshow
  • Press Esc or Ctrl+Break or – to finish a slideshow

8. Hide your desktop before you start your slideshow.

Another way to show off your PowerPoint skills is to jump right into a slideshow, instead of navigating to it from your desktop. When you’re finished with your presentation, save it with a .PPS or .PPSX extension, which denotes a complete slideshow. That way, when you double click it, it opens directly in the Slideshow window, not PowerPoint’s standard edit mode.

9. Practice makes perfect.

In many cases, PowerPoint presentations are finished mere minutes before they’re delivered, which can lead to minor (or even major) violations of all of the above tips. As soon as you think you’re done, give that slideshow another look (or three) — especially after you take a break from it and let the idea of presenting it bounce around in your head. One of the biggest benefits of extra time spent editing and polishing is that you can spend more time thinking about your presentation’s big picture. Which leads us to our final point…

10. Tell a cohesive story.

A good PowerPoint presentation contains more than just an intro slide, a closing slide, and a bunch of filler in between. Make sure each slide ties in to your narrative and contributes to your overall goal, which should be to make a compelling argument about your topic of choice.

Follow this last recommendation and everyone will walk away from your slideshow with a good idea of what you were trying to accomplish—maybe they’ll even invite you to present again in the near future!

Knowing what to do and how to do it is a critical part of Microsoft Office. Whether you need help with PowerPoint, World, Excel, or Outlook, CMIT Solutions can help your business enhance efficiency and boost productivity with trusted advice, automatic updates, reliable data backup, and much more. Contact us today — we worry about IT so you don’t have to.

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