A counterpoint to Morse's and Tufte's articles, "Learning to Love PowerPoint," presents a view you may not be able to express unless you're as undeniably cool as David Byrne. "I began this project making fun of the iconography of PowerPoint, which wasn't hard to do, but soon realized that the pieces were taking on lives of their own. This whirlwind of arrows, pointing everywhere and nowhere -- each one color-coded to represent God knows what aspects of growth, market share, or regional trends -- ends up capturing the excitement and pleasant confusion of the marketplace, the everyday street, personal relationships, and the simultaneity of multitasking. Does it really do all that? If you imagine you are inside there it does."
So perhaps it's not PowerPoint but the author that needs to be taken to task. How can we communicate effectively with PPT? I give you these guidelines.
1. Start with the end in mind. What are the key points you want your audience to walk away with? Make sure that they are spelled out clearly and supported with evidence that's easy to digest.
2. Consider your audience. Are they students looking for in-depth information, or executives or creative types looking for the main points? Write for the level of detail desired.
3. Don't try for double duty: in-person and leave-behind. Your deck will not work as both a presentation and a document that can be digested without the benefit of your brilliant commentary. In one case it will have too little information; in the other, too much. If both are needed, create two versions.
4. Set it up. Don't forget to introduce the basic structure of each idea or graphic. Speakers are frequently so conversant in their subject matter that they lose the audience. Most audience members won't admit to "not getting it," and will miss the deeper meaning while trying to figure out what the X axis is or what that acronym means.
5. Strive for dialogue. When speaking to a small group, the best possible outcome for your presentation is to become a lively conversation. Don't get so caught up in your show that you forget to seek the input of the others in the room.
6. Lighten up. We are all expecting to be bored, so a bit of levity is a welcome relief. As satirical news shows have demonstrated, humor can drive the serious points home. (Use good judgment. My favorite PPT slide about spam legislation being opposed by the powerful p*$%@ enlargement lobby was not always well-received.)
Ultimately, it's just like email marketing. If you consider the needs of the audience first, strive for clarity and use graphics appropriately, your presentation will be a success. Just make sure you take the time to do it -- so you can get the budget and staff you need in 2009.
The Email Diva
Send your questions or submit your email for critique to Melinda Krueger, the Email Diva, at firstname.lastname@example.org. All submissions may be published; please indicate if you would like your name or company name withheld.