PowerPoints that Soar, Not Stink

One way to ensure visual qualities in your PowerPoint presentation is to start with a storyboard, which gives your left brain a chance to compete with the urge to type a relentless string of bullet points.PowerPoint presentations are ubiquitous in boardrooms and classrooms, but more often than not they stink.

There is no single formula to produce a great PowerPoint presentation. They need to be tailored to meet the expectations of their intended audience. However, there are some basic principles that should guide anyone who uses PowerPoint.

1. It's eye candy, not a teleprompter.  Too many presenters treat PowerPoint slides like a script scrolling on a teleprompter. Effective PowerPoints should by a presentation sidekick that smartly highlights your key points.

2. Leverage a flexible, visual medium.  PowerPoints shouldn't be CliffsNotes for your speech. They should be a visual reinforcement of your key messages. PowerPoint is a flexible platform that enables almost anyone to design and execute slides with some style and pizzazz. Slide after slide of bullet points doesn't pass the test for style and pizzazz.

3. Elegant, not dumbed down.  Simplified explanations or powerful imagery can greatly aid an audience's understanding of what you say. Simplicity doesn't mean bleaching out complexity, it means finding elegant expression of the complexity. The goal isn't to prove how smart you are, but to help you audience to see the wisdom in your presentation.

4. Show what you mean.  An often-unexploited advantage of PowerPoint is its ability to assist you in showing an audience what you mean, rather than just telling them in words. You can insert memorable images, meaningful charts and mesmerizing videos that add depth and heighten audience interest.

5. Package your information.  People today are sophisticated viewers of visual media. They have access to tons of data and expect presenters to package it in a way that is easy to grasp. PowerPoint slides also carry the burden of being easy to see while sitting in an audience that can range from around a conference room table to the back of a banquet hall. A slide crammed with incomprehensible information, forcing viewers to squint, detracts from your presentation. A well-designed chart or other visual device that points to the key data enriches audience understanding.

6. You are the main act.  Don't fall into the trap of being the golf caddy for your PowerPoint, reading each slide. You are the main act and the presentation is your prop. What you say counts. Your presentation's job is to underline your key messages.

The best way to avoid the pitfalls of PowerPoint is to start with a storyboard, instead of typing a lot of words in the program's outline format. You don't have to be a great artist or a graphic designer. Use stick figures. But lay out your slide in this visual form to allow your left brain to guide the design of the presentation. Visual inspirations can lead to more vivid expression in your speech, packing more power into the overall presentation.

Another important tip: know your technology. Nothing turns off an audience more than someone fumbling to find their PowerPoint on their laptop or make a connection with a projector. Check out your equipment before leaving for your presentation. Master how the technology works, even if you have an assistant to help.

Don't forget, PowerPoint presentations can be re-purposed. The messaging and imagery you develop in a presentation can be converted into a slide show for your website or to share via social media. This creates added value and makes the time and effort to produce a really good PowerPoint worthwhile.

Most important, practice. Just because you spent a lot of time designing and perfecting your PowerPoint doesn't give you get a pass on practicing your speech. What you say and how you say it will influence your audience. Your PowerPoint is just a punctuation mark that makes what you said that much more indelible.

Follow these basic principles and simple tips and you can deliver PowerPoints that soar, not stink.