Wednesday, February 16, 2011

PowerPoint Tip: Why presenters spend way longer working on presentations than they need to

One of the issues I am often asked about during my workshops is the length of time it takes to create a PowerPoint presentation. Many presenters bemoan the hours and hours it takes. When I inquire as to what they are doing in that time, there are two big issues that are usually contributing to the length of time spent on preparing a presentation.

The first issue is that they tell me they spend a lot of time revising and reorganizing their presentation. Is it because they always deal with incredibly complex topics? No, the root cause is that they don’t spend time on structuring their message at the start. If you don’t spend quality time thinking about what you are going to say, you end up doing that thinking during the creation process instead. And your thinking gets interrupted by working on slides and takes much longer than it should.

Instead, block off some time before you even touch the computer. Use that quiet time to reflect on the goal of the presentation, what your audience is thinking right now, and what points you need to make in order to move the audience from where they are to where you want them to be. Write an outline on paper or use sticky notes so you can move ideas around. Add sketches of what visual will best communicate the point. You are not done the structuring stage until you have a complete outline and are convinced that this is the right message to deliver to this audience.

If you spend the time on the structure first, the creation of any slides is much easier. You already have a good idea of what visual you want to use to make the point and can simply create the visual you need, whether it is a graph, photograph, diagram, table, or other visual.

The second issue I hear that causes presenters to spend a lot of time creating presentations is that they don’t know how to use PowerPoint efficiently to create visuals such as graphs or diagrams and they don’t know how to include media such as pictures and video clips. Unfortunately, most organizations do not offer proper training in the common office programs like PowerPoint. It is assumed that you have already learned the skills in school or a previous position. If not, the common thought is that you can easily learn these programs because they are so easy to use.

My experience is that while you can open up PowerPoint and use the basics, most presenters don’t know what they don’t know about PowerPoint. In my workshops, some of the most useful tips I give are small ones like shortcuts or key combinations that can solve frustrating problems that many people have using PowerPoint. I encourage presenters to never stop learning. Actively seek out focused training that gives you the practical knowledge you can use immediately.

I offer this type of focused training through in-house workshops, one-on-one consulting, and the upcoming webinar series (get more information at When you are looking for training and trying to decide between the different options, make sure that the trainer is a presentation professional, not a computer specialist who knows every feature of the technology and is only going to run through a technical laundry list. The training should be designed so you see how PowerPoint is used in a real presentation situation then you are shown the feature in PowerPoint that was used. Look for a trainer who knows enough about PowerPoint to show you the insider tricks, not just the common features you already know. Make an informed decision about where to invest your training time and money so you get the payoff you are looking for.

If you allocate time up front to structuring your message, then learn how to efficiently use PowerPoint to create persuasive visuals, you will spend far less time creating your presentation, and have more time left for practicing and polishing your presentation.


Blogger Andrew said...

Dear Dave,

I have been a powerpoint user for about seven years now. My current level of proficiency with the software tends to intimidate peers in my graduate classes, but I am completely self-taught. I simply learned the ins-and-outs of the software through nothing other than exploration and practice; and have since mastered creating dynamic, visually engaging, and effectively animated presentations. Anyways, one trick that I have discovered along the way, which has saved me a great deal of time when making new presentations is something surprisingly simple, yet most people don't think of: which is to start working from a previously completed presentation, rather than a brand new blank document/ template. I've found that once the slides are properly formatted in a presentation in terms of text, background, pictures/media, and custom animation effects- it can be adapted for almost any topic by simply replacing the content of the text in each slide itself (and of course, modifying any visuals/animations as needed so that they remain in accordance as well).

I usually start by opening the file I want to work from, clicking "Save As...," and then saving it as something a bit different- so that the original presentation file remains intact, but rather than having to start from scratch (format background, insert text, select font, add font effects e.g. shadow, glow, 3-D, etc., maximize contrast between text and background, add entrance animation effects for text and images, etc. etc. for each slide), I simply go through and replace the content of the text, and then adjust the other media (e.g. photos/visuals/animations) accordingly as necessary. Hope this tip is as helpful to your blog readers as it's been to me.

9:11 AM  

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