PowerPoint – Good and Evil

PowerPoint’s BAD, right? It has formed the basis of the most tedious presentations you’ve ever seen; it encourages bland, mind-numbing rubbish and is a crutch for the unimaginative, to be avoided at all costs.

But PowerPoint can be GOOD, right? There was that presentation you saw once with exciting images, elegant design and only a few words per slide; inspirational, professional-looking and precisely what your ideal slide deck would look like.

The Right to Bear Slides

Well, it depends. PowerPoint’s like a weapon, a tool that can be abused or handled deftly, depending – not on your moral inclination, but – on your skill and open-mindedness. To avoid the presentation equivalent of shooting yourself in the foot, try the following radical approaches, presented here in descending order or radicality/radicalness:

  1. Consider not using any slides at all. Rehearse your talk with no visuals; if you feel like you need to show something, then think: is it to help the audience to understand? Or just because you want to distract them from looking at you?
  2. Consider images without any text at all. If you’re desperate to have some words up there, consider: what problem does the text solve? Is it just to use as a prompt? Remember, your audience is intelligent and understand the spoken word; you don’t need to beat them over the head with information – hearing spoken words can work pretty efficiently.
  3. Experiment with a few different PowerPoint templates (click on the ‘Design’ tab at the top); they’ll do a ton of stylish design work for you in a matter of seconds. It may not be 100% original, but it will look a lot tastier than the default ‘Black Arial text on a white background’.
  4. See how long you can speak over one slide. Lots of slides can be funny* but – obviously – requires more work. Much smarter** is to speak for 3-5 minutes over one slide. It shows that you know your stuff and don’t really need the slides anyway.

* Watch a video of James Mickens being funny with slides.

** Work smart, not hard. Well, working smart and hard is good, but let’s just start with smart, OK?

Toolkit

What’s vital is that you see the slides as a tool and not the presentation itself, so create your presentation at a high level on post-its first, nail the structure and start rehearsing. Once you’ve run through it a few times, you’ll know what visuals would help. Build from the foundation of your written, spoken piece and the best slides will be easy to create because their purpose will be clear. Most people start with the slides and then create a mess because they’ve combined the two processes. A bit like a builder starting construction without a concrete*** architectural design.

*** witty, eh?

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