Presentations – Secrets to Using PowerPoint More Effectively

Poor use of PowerPoint is rampant in presentations. And to be fair, it’s an awkward business. You’re trapped in a corner trying to read the visual and juggling a keyboard, the mouse, or a pointer while making sure you don’t trip over any wires and your audience can see the screen. Yet there are definitely some ways you can manage this process to be effective and professional. Here are some effective usage guidelines:

*STAY WITH THE VISUAL.  When you separate yourself from the visual — whether by standing at the lectern or the computer or off to the side — you split the audience’s attention. You don’t want them to have to choose between looking at you or looking at the visual. Step back to the screen and put yourself in the picture. Stepping all the way back to the screen first of all ensures that you’re not blocking the view of the screen for some audience members. Plus, it keeps you out of the projector’s light. In addition, it gives you a chance for purposeful movement, as you can refer to the visual and help direct your audience’s attention to the specific item you want them to focus on. Remember though, don’t talk to the screen. You can glance at it and refer to it, but always make sure you turn and talk to your audience.

*USE A CORDLESS REMOTE. This is a wonderful tool, allowing you to stay at the screen while you advance your slides. If the option isn’t available, however, and you have to use your laptop keyboard or a mouse with a cord to advance your slides, then just remember that the simpler your visuals are — fewer mouse clicks, less information that you can talk more about — the less you’ll look like a jack-in-the-box, constantly jumping from the screen to the computer.

*LEAVE THE LASER POINTER BEHIND. Please. It doesn’t help. First, if your visuals are done with a good color contrast, which means with a dark background, it’s extremely difficult to even see that little red beam. Secondly, the very nature of its use requires the speaker to face the slide, which means his back is turned on the audience and he’s talking to the screen, not the people in the room. You can be the pointer.

*AVOID PRE-SET TIMED TRANSITIONS. This may seem like a great option since you don’t have to worry about advancing the slides yourself. You can be free of the laptop and stay with the visual as your slides automatically move ahead. However, it is extremely rare that this feature works well. No matter how much you practice in front of your computer screen, it’s almost impossible to perfectly time your remarks in front of a group to coordinate with your transitions. You’ll invariably find that either the slide show will get ahead of you or you’ll have to pause uncomfortably waiting for the next bullet point or slide to come up. 

*DON’T TURN OUT THE LIGHTS IN THE ROOM. This implies that the visuals are more important than you, and that’s not a good message to send. You may have to sacrifice the readability of your visuals a little – although most projectors today are very bright and allow great visibility of slides – but it’s still better to sacrifice the visibility of your slides instead of you.

*DON’T RUN A CONTINUOUS SLIDE SHOW. Let go of the need to have to have a visual up all the time. Go to black from time to time, either by blacking out the screen with the remote or with the B key on keyboard or by inserting the occasional black slide. This is a powerful technique that prevents PowerPoint overload and allows some of the focus to shift back to you. 
*END ON A BLACK SLIDE.   This is a nice way to end your presentation-nothing on the screen to distract from you during your close or the Q&A session. Leave your black slide there and don’t exit the “Slide Show” mode until you are completely done with your presentation, ready to leave. If you exit Slide Show before you’re done, the audience has to look at the “Slide Sorter View” of your program, which is busy and distracting.

*FINALLY, MAKE SURE YOU CAN GIVE YOUR TALK WITH IT. Stuff happens — light bulbs blow out, the computer crashes, there’s no electrical outlet to be found. Don’t take up your presentation time fiddling with the equipment or bemoaning your bad luck. Go forward as if nothing’s amiss. If visuals are crucial to your presentation, have hard copies on hand to distribute so that your audience will have something to refer to.