PowerPoint – Pain point?

Disclaimer: Owing to the ubiquitous nature of Microsoft’s Office products, my article below references to them. Feel free to replace them with any similar productivity tool you may use – eg. Keynote instead of PowerPoint.

I’ve always received compliments for my PowerPoint presentations. Truth be told, I don’t really enjoy making them. Further truth be told, my footing into the world of online media started off when I was 13 and making PowerPoint presentations for my mother’s travel company. Still, I never really enjoyed it back then either. The only thing that drew me toward it back then was transitions – it was the first time I, an early teenager, could see my creation (words, mostly then), come to life – literally.

Today, I encounter at least 6-8 PowerPoint presentations in a day of which maybe 2-3 are made by my team at Influx while the rest are from media owners, sponsorship solicitors, etc trying to peddle their wares. I wish I could say 9 out of those 10 sucked. But I’d be pushed to say 9.8 out of any 10 suck, including those made by us at Influx. I almost ALWAYS re-do presentations made by my colleagues. Why do I let them still do it in the first place? Since I pay them money to do so and it’s something they ought to learn.

At the risk of being non-stop preachy, I’ll get down to it. What exactly does it take to make a good PowerPoint presentation?

1. Structure – I almost always start off by typing out my presentations in Word so that the structure flows from my head on to paper. Some people may prefer to even write it down on paper and then put it into the presentation – whatever works – but do it. Remember, PowerPoint is a visual medium – the software’s design is something that I have found to hinder flow of thought the way Microsoft Word or even Notepad encourages.

2. Layout –
It is not cool to center align all your text, title, pictures, etc – No No, NO! Even if you have zero exposure to design or design skills, think of a newspaper or a magazine. Think of how it is laid out – there’s a masthead on top, there are columns and the layout adapts to the amount of content available. There are margins, and things align up – just like your second grade teacher taught you – draw a margin and write within the lines.

3. Fonts – Honestly, if you don’t know how to use Photoshop or even the most basic visual enhancement tools of PowerPoint, just try and get a good looking font. Remember, fonts say a lot. A bold font can make a statement, a sans-serif font is easier to read on screen, a rounded font type is a little more emotional and so on and so forth. Caution: Don’t overdo it. Head to www.dafont.com or www.google.com/webfonts for a fabulous collection of fonts. I especially recommend the later since all the fonts are web-safe. And finally, NEVER use more than 2 fonts in a deck – one for titles, sub titles and highlights and another for body copy.

Some interesting articles on the subject:

4. Transitions –
Yes, that fancy, amazing thing about PowerPoint presentations – lose it. Transitions died somewhere between 1999 and 2003. Invest that time into ensuring your presentation is perfectly aligned or in looking up a great font. Similarly, timed or ‘auto proceed’ presentations are virtually obsolete today.

5. Avoid ‘multimedia’ – Embedding video or audio somehow always ends up letting you down at the time of the presentation. There’s no harm in inserting a slide indicating that the presenter will now be leaving the presentation window to another one to showcase a video or a PDF.

6. The King: Content –
Everything else aside, unless your content is sound, well researched and presented in a great flow of natural thought, you will easily lose your audience. Keep it brief – avoid paragraphs of content – bullets are your best friend. Avoid filling your presentation with content the way you speak it – that’s what you are there for or in your absence, your audience’s imagination /intelligence is.

7. Invest in design –
While yes, content is king, the design makes the first impression unlike anything else. Whether the audience comprises visually attuned folks or not, just like how a rose is a rose to anyone, most people will appreciate something that’s well designed. It might not secure you that round of funding or win you that pitch but it will definitely ensure that your audience is ‘charmed’. Needless to say, design is subjective as well as very very easy to screw up. So exercise reasonable care to stay within your skills. Make the effort to request friends who are designers or even engage an agency. Better still, just buy a template and try and get your presentation to look as close to the original template even AFTER you have put in your content.

These are just the basics, but if you keep these in mind, you’ll make a fairly good deck – better than 98% of those out there! Remember, a presentation you share or e-mail with someone is filling in for your actual physical presence. So equate how much you’d invest into it as against how much you’d invest if you personally made the presentation – the content is your research & preparation, the fonts the clothes you’d pick to wear & the design being the perfume, watch & pen you choose to carry.

Have any great PowerPoint presentations you’ve come across? Feel free to share links to them in the comments.