6 Rules to Avoid Death by PowerPoint

We've all been there: sitting through the never-ending PowerPoint presentation from hell, struggling to keep our eyes open while listening to someone's best impression of Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller's Day Off as they turn their back to us to read the 48 bullet points on every slide. Professional presenters call this type of torture "Death by PowerPoint," and it's valuable time that none of us will ever get back.

It's said that over three million (bad) PowerPoint presentations happen to innocent people every day.

So who is to blame? Is it the presentation tool that's at fault or how we're using it? Is Death by PowerPoint avoidable?

PowerPoint has become the standard bearer for every type of corporate presentation or sales pitch. When used correctly, it can be a powerful and effective visual aid. The problem is—this rarely happens. PowerPoint has a terrible habit of setting us up for failure. The very first screen we see dares us to create a bullet point, and then another, and another and soon we can't help ourselves, the program is taunting us to create an animated bar graph, followed by a twirling logo and exploding pie chart! Yes! More color, more charts, more sound effects—we're creating an Oscar-worthy masterpiece that will make Al Gore jealous and we can't stop!

We get lost in all of the bells and whistles of PowerPoint because we use it the way Microsoft wants us to, instead of the right way.

The primary goal of every presentation is to transfer your point of view or way of thinking. Our brains are made up of two sides—analytical and emotional—and the most effective presentations communicate to both. Data is crucial for a lot of corporate presentations, but you'll never fully sell it without emotion. People decide whether they'll tune in to or out of your presentation during the first few slides, while their emotional side is also busy judging your style of dress, body language, and tone of voice. If your presentation doesn't engage their interest from the beginning, you've lost the battle.

When used the right way, PowerPoint helps support the story by visualizing the ideas that will sway your audience. Here are 5 rules that will help you keep your audience engaged, impressed and alive.

Rule 1. What's In It For Me?
One of the most important parts of any presentation is the audience. Knowing your audience beforehand can really help you create a presentation that delivers. Think about who they are, what keeps them up at night, and what's in it for them. What do you want them to do? What information do you want them to retain? Gregory Bern said, "You may have the best idea in the world, but if you can't convince anyone it doesn't matter." If everyone you're standing in front of already agrees with you, then there would be no need for your presentation.

Rule 2. T.M.I.
One of the greatest communicators of all time, Steve Jobs said, "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication." He never used any bullet points or data-dense content in his highly effective presentations. Too many presenters misuse their slides as a teleprompter, an onscreen handout, or a place to dump way too much detail. The average corporate PowerPoint slide has approximately 40-50 words, most of them in bullets. That's about 40-50 too many words, and cognitive research has shown that bullet points are the least effective way to deliver information. If you must include words, write simple, Twitter-length headlines and keep each slide to a single point.

Rule 3. Don't Worry. Be Visual.
Studies have shown that people retain information far more effectively when it's shown as an image as opposed to text-only or text with an image. This is called PSE: Picture Superiority Effect. When we turn words into pictures, it makes our ideas easier to remember and also appeals to the emotional side of the brain. Steve Jobs (again) was the master of visual simplicity and emotional communication. When introducing the MacBook Air, he could've squeezed a bunch of technical data onto his slides, but he didn't. Instead, he showed only an image of a standard office envelope with the new laptop inside to demonstrate how thin the computer is. No words, no bullet points—just one image and his point was made. Whenever possible, swap out words for images and help the audience focus on what you're saying.

Rule 4. Facts Tell. Stories Sell.
What's the single most important thing you can do to dramatically improve your presentations? Tell a story. Every great presenter throughout history had one thing in common: they were all great story tellers. We're often presented with facts and figures that don't keep our attention because they bore us to death. Presenting information is completely different from telling a story. Stories hold our attention, motivate us, inspire us, and—most importantly—persuade us to act. The great storytellers start by creating a presentation structure in analog mode (pen & paper) before they ever open PowerPoint.

Rule 5. The Three P's
Practice. Practice. Practice. According to Malcolm Gladwell, becoming a true expert at anything requires 10,000 hours of practice. While we may not realistically have that kind of rehearsal time, without enough practice all of your hard work can fall flat due to poor delivery. Practice your presentation in front a mirror, your co-workers, anyone (or thing) that can provide you with feedback. Great presentations don't happen spontaneously; they're the by-products of hours and hours of rehearsing, refining, and repeating.

Rule 6.  Have Fun
If you're enjoying yourself, so will your audience. This humourous presentation by engineer turned comedian Don McMillan will help.

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