Tuesday, October 30, 2007

PowerPoint Tip: Text Heavy Slides Annoy Audiences Survey Says

In the third Annoying PowerPoint Survey that wrapped up a week ago, the major conclusion is that we are suffering through an epidemic of overloaded text slides - and we are not happy about it. The survey results point to the need for presenters to increase the use of relevant visuals to replace text and allow more of a conversation with the audience instead of a recitation of the slide text.

When asked to select the top three things that annoy them about bad PowerPoint presentations, the respondents cited the following as the most annoying:
The speaker read the slides to us - 67.4%
Full sentences instead of bullet points - 45.4%
Text so small I couldn't read it - 45.0%

While the top ranked issue has not changed in the three surveys (previous surveys were done in 2003 and 2005), what stood out clearly this time was that the top three annoyances all relate to overloaded text slides. And the rest of the annoying characteristics were ranked well behind these top three. It is clear that our audiences are getting sick and tired of having reports read to them and it being called a presentation. The results are to be taken seriously, as 62% of the 604 people who participated in the survey indicated that they see over 100 presentations per year. One-third of the respondents said that they see annoying elements in over half of all the presentations they see.

Survey participants also had the opportunity to write in comments and over 360 did so. After analyzing the comments, here are the other top concerns.
1. A lack of presentation skills by presenters. This ranges from not knowing how to use PowerPoint or presentation equipment, to not being familiar with their presentations, to a general lack of preparation and a focus on the slides instead of the content.
2. Poor slide design and layout, including poor color selection and layouts that are inconsistent throughout the presentation.
3. Reinforcement of the desire for more visuals and less text on slides.

So given these results, what should you do? My suggestion is to redouble your efforts to think visually about ideas you want to present. One key way to do this is to start paying attention to the words or phrases that you use to describe your ideas. If you hear words or phrases that describe relationships, such as "when this... then ...", "subordinate", or "component parts", you should be thinking diagram. If you are telling a story, describing a place or event, or referring to a person, use a photograph. The same goes for graphs, charts and screen shots. It is not easy at first, but once you start paying attention, you will start to see the visual potential in many ideas.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

How NOT to switch between presenters

Switching between presentations when a new presenter comes up to speak seems to be one of the single most difficult things to do well according to my experience and those who write to me. A recent conference was a perfect illustration. The second speaker came up and needed to switch to his presentation from the one that was left on the screen from the previous speaker. So he hit Escape and dropped into the program mode of PowerPoint. He started searching for his presentation and it took a while for him to figure out where it was. It took so long in fact, that the audience started to chat with each other. Then, audience members started shouting out advice on how he could find the file and get the presentation started. He finally loaded his presentation and started speaking. All of this can be easily avoided, but it seems like most conference organizers have no idea how to do so. By simply setting up a single slide that has hyperlinks to the different presentations, the switch between speakers can be smooth and simple. If you are responsible for a session with multiple speakers, please use this advice to make the session so much more enjoyable for the audience.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Proofread your slides - please!

At a recent presentation, the speaker showed a slide with a table of results from three questions of a survey that had been conducted. The first question asked how strongly the participants agreed that one method was better. The results showed strong agreement that this method was effective. The second question asked whether the participants thought an opposite method was better. Surprisingly, the results shown on the slide indicated strong support for this opposite method. I wondered how could this be. So I listened for how the speaker was going to explain this apparent contradiction. When the speaker got to that point, she simply commented that it was odd how the results had turned out and continued on. What??!! No explanation at all. I looked at the table that was in the handout as well and noticed that the results for the third question were identical to that for the second question. A-ha! I think someone simply copied the wrong results in to the row for the second question. When I raised this to the speaker at the end of the presentation, she was shocked and appeared pleasantly surprised that I had found the probable answer to the contradictory results. And I was left to think: Did anyone look at the data or rehearse this presentation at all? When you have data that makes no sense, do you not go back to the source and check it? Apparently in this case the answer was "no". Make sure that when you are presenting data, you have checked it and that you are comfortable with the conclusions it presents. If not, figure out where the problem is and correct it. Or leave that data out of the presentation until you are able to do further study and come to a point where you are comfortable with it.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

PowerPoint Tip: Visual Slide Definition

This past week I created a new definition of a visual slide that captures where my position is different from some others. Here is my definition:

"A visual slide is not the absence of text; it is the presence of a visual that encourages a conversation with the audience."

Now some people have stated that PowerPoint slides should never have text on them - visuals only. And we have all seen the paragraphs of unending text on too many slides. I think those are the two ends of a spectrum. While it is important to know where the extremes of the spectrum are, I am not sure living there is the best approach. I prefer something in the middle.
In my definition, I deliberately chose to define a visual not by what is missing, but instead by what is present that is of greatest value. Let me explain.

A visual is not of value simply because there is no text on the slide. The lack of text does not add to the benefit that the audience gets from the presentation. What does add value is a visual, usually accompanied by some explanatory text, that starts a conversation that enhances the understanding of the audience. The audience also sees the visual and draws their own conclusions that contribute to the discussion. A visual should not be added for decoration, but serve a clear purpose in delivering the message.

While the epidemic of overloaded boring text slides is clearly gripping the business presentations that we see, the solution is not to swing to the other end of the spectrum, but to find that middle ground that will best serve our audiences. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this definition.

If you are looking for ideas on how to create visuals instead of all text slides, check out my e-book "Transforming Text Slides into Visual Slides", which gives you ideas of what visuals fit different situations and the best practices for each of those visuals. Here is the link to learn more:http://www.ThinkOutsideTheSlide.com/transformtext.htm .

Thursday, October 11, 2007

New source of PowerPoint Maps

A while back I wrote on how geographic data should be represented on a slide using a map. Now a new source of high quality maps has been launched that can make this easier. At http://mapsfordesign.com , you can purchase completely editable maps of the US, Canada and many countries of the world. For example, you can purchase a US and Canada map that has every state and province as a separate object, allowing you to change the color individually or pull out only the ones that you want to highlight. This gives you a whole new set of options when wanting to show geographic data. Check it out and see how you can use these maps to create visuals that make geographic data more meaningful to your audiences.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Use a remote for more than changing slides

I have advocated for years that presenters should use a remote instead of being tethered to the keyboard. But I see far too many presenters use it only to change slides. All the points come up on each slide when the slide appears and the audience is left to figure out which point the speaker is discussing now. If you have a remote, use it to build each point on your slides. Then you can speak about each point separately and the audience knows exactly which point you are talking about. It shows that you have taken your skills to the next level.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

PowerPoint Tip: Standard Set of Slides

In my PowerPoint Presentation Effectiveness System, one of the key steps is to create a standard set of slides to draw on when creating your presentations. Why is this such a good idea? Today I'll let you know.

One objection I hear regularly to this idea is that having a standard set of slides eliminates the opportunity to customize presentations. And today you need to create custom presentations if you want to survive in the highly competitive business marketplace. I agree that you need to customize, but having a standard set of slides doesn't hinder your ability to do so.

By a standard set of slides what I mean is a set of slides that covers the majority of the common ideas that you present. It is not intended to be restrictive. It allows you to have a library of slides you commonly use to save time creating every new, customized presentation.

The standard slides have a common look and feel. They have one idea per slide so you can pick and choose slides from the standard set when you create each presentation. And it gives you only one place to go for slides instead of searching through different files every time. Let's see how this would look in two specific situations.

If you are in sales, your standard set of slides would include some introductory slides, slides on each popular product or service, slides on the purchasing process, slides with customer testimonials and others that would be included in the majority of your presentations. For a finance professional, your slides would include monthly graphs of the key figures you track, trends that executives need to be aware of and regular analysis that you perform that is critical to making operating decisions.

Look back at the last few presentations you have done. Which slides did you pull from a previous presentations? Which ones do you know you'll be using again? That's where your standard set of slides starts. Put together the slides that you regularly use into a standard set and draw on the slides in that set when you create your next presentation. You will cut down on the time you spend creating every presentation because all the time searching or recreating previous slides is eliminated.

Learn more about how the standard library of slides is a critical part of the PowerPoint Presentation Effectiveness System on my site at http://www.ThinkOutsideTheSlide.com/systemoverview.htm .