I hate PowerPoint. It’s clunky and bloated software (sorry Microsoft). To add insult to injury, we have to use it. It is so embedded in business today that we have no choice. Everyone has PowerPoint.
I can’t tell you how many soul-sucking PowerPoint presentations I have sat through over my career. If you can’t tell by now, I’m not a fan. Which makes this next bit incredibly difficult to say. It’s not all PowerPoint’s fault.
PowerPoint is not off the hook. It makes it too easy to create mind-numbing presentations. But we have to quit blaming crappy software when the real problem lies elsewhere.
Let’s cut the crap.
PowerPoint sucks. But let’s quit using it as an excuse. We can all make better presentations. Yes, even with PowerPoint.
Great presentations are stories that unfold before us with the help of the presenter. We don’t have to be some campfire savant who effortlessly spins yarns out of thin air. We just need to follow the principles that make a good story.
1. Understand your purpose. Everything we do should be anchored in our Big Audacious Meaning. This is the difference we hope to make in a life, a community, or even the world. It gives us a service orientation. When we have that, we focus less on what we want and more on how we can help those we hope to serve. This lays the foundation for more engaging presentations because it puts the needs and wants of those we hope to serve (our audience) ahead of our own wants. When people feel like the story is focused on serving them, they will sit up and listen.
2. Tell the story they want to hear. Something enchanting happens when people feel like we really get them. Their defenses come down. Skepticism dissipates. If we make an effort to demonstrate that we understand what is important to them, we win hearts as well as minds. We must ask ourselves, “Does the story I’m telling with this presentation empathize with who they are?”
3. Build the presentation for emotional connections. Statistics are great to support a point you’re making. But recall research shows that people forget statistics. What do they remember? Stories. Because stories are emotional. And we remember those things that stir strong feelings in us.
4. One thought. One slide. Quit trying to jam one more thing onto that slide. In fact, quit trying to put anything but one thing on that slide. One thought per slide is the rule. It will make your story and presentation clearer and easier to follow.
5. Illustrate to illuminate. A picture is worth a thousand words. So quit trying to fill the PowerPoint slide with masses of text and show a picture of what it means. Even if you have an interesting statistic, find a way to illustrate the impact of that statistic. Water.org has a statistic that 2.3 billion people lack access to a toilet. I saw people get that number wrong all the time when I worked with them. But they always remember the micro story — more people have a mobile phone than a toilet.
6. Follow Guy Kawasaki’s 10/20/30 rule. 10 pages. 20 minutes. 30 point type. It is a structure that forces you to really focus on what is important and to say what you’re going to say in the most powerful way possible.
7. Be a brutal editor. Create the presentation, then step away. Don’t return until after a good night’s sleep. Then, with fresh eyes, be ruthless. Cut extraneous words. Lose entire slides if it makes the story stronger. Take a cue from Edward Tufte (a pioneer in the field of data visualization). He said, “Design isn’t crafting a beautiful, textured button with breathtaking animation. It’s figuring out if there’s a way to get rid of the button altogether.”
Yes, PowerPoint sucks. But not as much as giving in to it, cramming it full of unreadable text, illegible boxes and arrows, and heinous clip art.
Keep it simple. Keep it story driven. Because the world doesn’t need another crappy PowerPoint presentation.
Dan is an expert brand strategist and author of the forthcoming book Big Audacious Meaning — Unleashing Your Purpose-Driven Story. He is a founder at Will & Grail — a brand innovation company, helping organizations find their unique, undeniable and unshakable sense of purpose and create innovative experiences that bring it to life.