Friday, June 30, 2006

Why you should avoid backgrounds with lines

The most popular search terms in the PowerPoint arena are those related to backgrounds (sometimes called templates). I always suggest a simple background because it gives the best chance for your audience to see the text or graphics on the slide clearly. But if you want to choose a background that has graphics, a recent slide illustrated why you should avoid backgrounds with lines in them. This presenter chose a background that had diagonal lines in it. When they showed a line graph on this background, one of the background lines ran through the graph and was more prominent that some of the lines on the graph. This made it look like the most important element of the graph when in fact it wasn't part of the data at all. Very confusing for the audience and it leaves your audience wondering what the real point of the graph was. If you do choose to select a graphic background, avoid ones that will interfere with your audience understanding any graphs or diagrams you add to your slides.

Friday, June 23, 2006

What is the purpose of a handout?

In my mind, a handout is a recall aid for the audience. You want them to be able to recall and use what you have said after you are done presenting. I see some handouts where I wonder what the presenter was thinking. A recent example illustrates this. The presenter showed a PowerPoint slide with a key quote that set the context for that section of the presentation. But the quote wasn't on the handout, so people spent time writing the quote down instead of listening to what the presenter was saying about why this idea was important. People can't write and listen at the same time, so if your handout doesn't help them listen by giving them comfort that they key ideas are there for later recall, I think the handout has not done its job. It's also why I always give the handout before I start, so people can focus on understanding the points and figuring out how they apply instead of busily writing down notes. Next time you present, carefully consider what handout you will be giving and how it helps your audience.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

When "white space" on a PowerPoint slide is a bad thing

I have argued in the past that slides dense with text should be avoided. And this mistake is by far the most common one I see. But I also have seen the opposite and a recent presentation was an example. The slide contained a paragraph of text (it was quoting a document, so it was OK to have a paragraph), but it was in what appeared to be 14 point font and only took up the top one-third of the slide. The bottom two-thirds were empty. It made the slide look out of balance and the text was nearly impossible to read. White space on a slide is necessary, but if you have too much, it will look strange. It would have been better to increase the font size and vertically center the text on the slide to give it balance. If you have a small amount of text on a slide, try to use a larger font and position it in the center of the slide so that it looks even and not lopsided.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Why Do Presenters Look at the PowerPoint slide on the Screen?

It never ceases to amaze me how often presenters look at the PowerPoint slide projected on the screen. It happens when they put up a new slide or put new text or an object on the slide. They have the laptop screen in front of them and can see it perfectly clearly, but they feel compelled to turn their back to the audience and look at the projected image. Is it because they don't trust that what is on the laptop is really on the screen? What makes it worse is that the presenter usually starts speaking while they are facing the screen, so the audience can't hear them at usually the most critical time of any slide. Trust the technology or use your peripheral vision to see something happen on the screen and keep facing the audience. It's not about your slides, it's about the audience. It almost looks like some presenters turn around just to admire their "cool" slides in large size. Next time you present, please keep looking at the audience, glance at the laptop to check that the right slide is displayed, but don't turn around to speak to the projected image on the screen. Your audience will thank you.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

PowerPoint Tip: Transitioning between sections

Not long ago I talked with a customer who got some feedback after a recent presentation that concerned her. The comment was that it was too jolting when she moved from one section to the next in her presentation. She wanted to find a way to make the transitions smoother between the sections. Since she doesn't use any text on her slides, the traditional text Agenda slide approach would not fit with her presentation. I gave her an idea to use the same agenda slide concept in a slightly different way. If you have multiple agenda items and want a non-text approach, you might want to try this out. Here is what I shared with her. If she has six sections to cover, I suggested she show an Agenda-like slide at the start to give a roadmap of where she was going but instead of listing the sections in text, use six pictures, one to represent each section and arrange them in a circle. Then, when she switches to a new section, bring back the context slide and have five of the pictures washed out and only the section she is next covering in full color. This way, she is always giving the audience context of where they have been and where they are headed, and also making a smooth transition between sections. Making smooth transitions helps tie your presentation together and contributes to the audience feeling that they have seen a coordinated message. In the future I think we will see less presentations follow a strict agenda of topics and more presentations proceed in a non-linear fashion. This approach gives the audience a menu of topics to choose from and the audience decides what topics are covered in what order. I captured my ideas on non-linear presentations and other advanced delivery techniques in a video tutorial that you can order from .

Saturday, June 10, 2006

"I know you can't read this at the back of the room"

Whenever I hear a presenter use those words, I cringe - and audiences every day in presentation rooms around the world cringe when they hear those words. In most cases it is followed by, "so I'll read it to you". If you knew the audience wouldn't be able to read it, why did you put it up there!?! Selecting a font size that is too small is one of the most annoying things a presenter can do when using PowerPoint (the #2 annoyance in my survey last year - click here for the full survey results). Recently I reviewed a presentation where the slides contained 10 point text. How in the world do you think the audience will be able to read it when you can barely read it on your own screen? And then I just saw an ad for a projector that touts its ability to clearly project text as small as 7 point. This isn't something they should be promoting, they should be embarrassed that someone spent time designing the technology to do it. The minimum font size you should use for text on your slides is 20 point. I prefer 24-32 point for even more clarity. By using a reasonable font size, you also force yourself to use shorter bullet points instead of paragraphs on the slides. Remember, it is about clarity for the audience, not packing your PowerPoint slides with more text so you can just read the slides to the audience.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Why are colors such a tough issue for many PowerPoint presenters?

It amazes me the color choices I see presenters make for their slides. Let me give you a couple of recent examples. The first is a presenter who chose a blue background for their slides. Not a bad choice at all, in fact it is one of the colors that works well and is quite popular. Where this presenter made the mistake is in selecting a text emphasis color. The regular text was in white (good choice), but the most important text, the words he wanted the audience to pay most attention to were in red (aaaaahhhhhh!). When projected, I doubt even half the audience could see, let alone read, the text in red, which left them with the only readable text being the less important words out of context. The second example was a presenter who used solid black as the background, but made poor color choices elsewhere. The first mistake was in using a graphic in the top left corner that had bright blue, red and yellow squares in it. Even with white text, your eyes were only drawn to this bright splash of color and away from anything else on the slide. The second mistake was the choice of text color on the diagrams - the presenter chose medium grey. Almost impossible to see when projected. When selecting colors, make sure that people will be able to distinguish between them. Select colors that have enough contrast so that the text stands on top of the background.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Make your PowerPoint slide titles meaningful

I love sitting in airport waiting lounges watching people create or review their PowerPoint presentations. A recent day provided a great example of "what not to do". The presentation looked like it was a one or two day training program. At the top of each slide, where the slide title should be, was a graphic containing the name of the group being presented to and the section of the presentation. The top of the slide is the area your audience uses to anchor themselves with what they key point of this slide is. Don't waste that space on administrative details - which is what the name of the group and the section really are. Put that stuff at the bottom of the slide so it is there, but not the focus of the slide. Make your titles meaningful, so an audience member can glance at the title and instantly know what the key point of the slide is.