Career Matters

By Lily Whiteman

Simplicity, clarity mark effective PowerPoint presentation

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When it comes to public speaking, “less is more.” The simpler a presentation is, the clearer and more memorable it will be — and the more time needed to prepare it.

Unfortunately, this principle is apparently underappreciated. According to a survey quoted in the book “Resonate” by Nancy Duarte, 86 percent of executives say communicating with clarity directly affects their career and income, but only 25 percent of executives devote more than two hours to preparing for high-stakes presentations.

Tips for crafting simple, clear, memorable PowerPoint slides:

Solicit advice on your presentation from people who have addressed your target audience. I benefited from this strategy by consulting a knowledgeable colleague before giving a talk about press coverage of projects sponsored by a new employer shortly after starting the job.

My adviser suggested that I call out program managers from the audience as I discussed their projects in the talk and that I brandish their names on appropriate slides. Although this strategy, which helped me win over my audience, seems obvious in hindsight, it had not occurred to me as a newbie.

Design each slide to convey its message almost instantly, like a billboard. If it would take more than a few seconds to understand a slide, simplify it by conveying its message in fewer words, streamlining/generalizing complicated charts or graphs, or moving information to other slides.

Give each slide a balanced, logical design that guides the viewer from an obvious starting point to an end point; the audience should never “get lost” in a visual three-ring circus and wonder where to look.

Include eye-catching graphics on most slides, if possible. Graphics help make presentations memorable by reinforcing spoken words and by serving as mnemonic devices. Collect ideas on how to graphically convey concepts by doing Google image searches on relevant keywords.

Crop images for maximum impact with the “Crop” button under the “Format” tab.

Don’t confuse simplicity with blandness. A simple, compelling slide can be created solely with an attention-grabbing statistic and an evocative image. I recently witnessed the effectiveness of this principle by a presenter who impressed his audience by the reach of one of his office’s publications, which had been circulated to 5,000 people, by accompanying this statistic with an image of Carnegie Hall, which has a comparable number of seats.

Use consistent color and font schemes throughout your slides, but vary slide layouts. For example, one idea might be best conveyed by an image positioned adjacent to several short bullets, while another might be best conveyed by a quote, fact or hard-hitting phrase superimposed on an image covering an entire slide.

Choose background colors that contrast with one another without creating glare, such as white text against a dark blue or black background.

Save time by using screen shots of websites rather than by hyperlinking to the Internet.

If you must show your audience a page of a document during your talk, convert the page to a PDF and import it into PowerPoint with the “Object” button beneath the “Insert” tab. Also distribute it to your audience in a readable hard-copy handout. Similarly, if your talk must include complicated diagrams or formulas, distribute them in handouts.

Once you’ve finished preparing your slides, ruthlessly eliminate some of them. Time flies during presentations. You probably won’t have enough time to present all of the slides you have prepared at an unhurried pace. And your audience won’t miss what they are not shown. The number of slides you present should be far fewer than the number of minutes you have to present them.

If any viewers squint/strain to view a slide, summarize its contents for your audience. And improve your slides for your next presentation; treat your slides as continual works in progress.

Tell your boss about positive verbal comments and favorable audience surveys generated by your presentation, and include this feedback on your accomplishments list that you submit before your annual review.

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