Tuesday, December 20, 2011

PowerPoint Tip: Spreadsheets don't belong on slides

Frequently people tell me that financial presentations include a huge spreadsheet that has been copied on to a slide. The text and numbers are way too small and inevitably the presenter says, “I know you can’t read this, so I’ll read it to you.” Spreadsheets don’t belong on slides. Today I want to talk about why not and what you can do instead.

Why don’t spreadsheets belong on slides? Because a spreadsheet is an analytical tool, not a communication tool. We use spreadsheets because they are the best tool for analyzing numbers, doing calculations and comparing numerical information. A spreadsheet does those jobs well. It quickly allows us to do hundreds of calculations that would take hours if done by hand. It is so easy to do calculations that we may end up doing more analysis that gives additional insight into the numbers. So for this purpose, a spreadsheet is a great tool.

But when it comes to communicating the results of that analysis to others, the spreadsheet is a terrible tool. It contains far too much detail that confuses instead of informs. The audience only wants the results or conclusions of the analysis, not every step you took. The spreadsheet you used to do the calculations contains both the detailed work and the results, usually with the vast majority of the cells taken up by the details of the analysis, not the resulting conclusions.

So what should you do instead of copying the entire spreadsheet on to a slide? You should create a summary table of results. You can create a new worksheet in Excel or put the summary table below the existing worksheet, whichever you prefer. This summary table only contains the numbers that the audience needs to see in order to understand the conclusions of your analysis. The final numbers, the bottom line, is all they need to see.

When you are deciding on those final numbers, make sure that you aren’t forcing the audience to do math with the numbers. If you are presenting a comparison, don’t put both numbers in the table and expect the audience to figure out the difference. Show a percentage difference in the table if that is the important message you are trying to communicate.

Once you have the table down to the bare minimum of numbers, you can copy the table on to a slide or create a table on a slide and enter the numbers by hand. Add a graphic indicator, like an up or down arrow to indicate the direction of the change or difference. Make the table as easy to understand as possible. Now you have a table that truly gives insights and doesn’t confuse the audience.

Next month I’ll be doing a webinar that is a little different from the ones I’ve done this year. I will be sharing the best techniques for using financial data in PowerPoint. There will be more of a focus on the “how-to” in this webinar and I expect I’ll be dropping out of slide show mode to show how things are done in editing mode. You can see all the details and register at http://www.ThinkOutsideTheSlide.com/effectivepresentationwebinars.htm#financial.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The best tool for presenting PowerPoint on the iPad

In the next few months I’ll be doing a webinar on using the iPad to develop and deliver presentations, but I want you to know about one of the tools that I’ll be discussing. It is SlideShark and it is the best tool I have seen for presenting PowerPoint slides on the iPad. I was one of the testers of the app, but I’ve held off sharing it with you until now because I wanted to make sure it was going to stand up in the real world - and it does. It is a free app, and here’s how it works. You upload you PowerPoint file to a free SlideShark account on the web (you can do this from the iPad if you want to), they convert the file into a format that works on the iPad, then you download it to the iPad ready to present from the SlideShark iPad app. It works well and supports more fonts, animations and features than any other solution I’ve seen. Right now you can get extra storage space on your account if you use this link that SlideShark gave me: http://www.slideshark.com/r?r=14787B. Sign up today and discover the best solution for presenting PowerPoint on the iPad.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

PowerPoint Tip: The audience wants the conclusion

In my survey this fall of what annoys audiences about bad PowerPoint presentations, the clear message you sent was that too many presentations suffer from information overload. Whether it is text, numbers, or a combination of both, the excessive information causes confusion and lack of action by the audience. Today I want to address the issue of whether to present a little or a lot of your work in a presentation.

It is likely that you have done a lot of analysis and many calculations in order to come up with the conclusions that you want to present. The common view is that it is important for the audience to hear about all the assumptions, steps in the process, formulas, and calculations. You may also be tempted to include who did each step, how long it took, when it was done and even what office location helped out. While all of this information may be important to you, the truth is that the audience doesn’t need to hear it all.

What your audience needs to hear is the conclusion you reached. What does your work mean to them. How will your work help them make an important decision they are facing. They want to know the bottom line, not all the lines in between. The focus of your presentation should be on the conclusion of your work, not the details of your work. They trust that you did the work properly, that’s why they asked you to do this analysis.

But what about all the details? Shouldn’t we include some details? Only include those few details that, if changed, would significantly impact the conclusion. Talk about a key assumption you used that, if not correct, would change the whole outcome. Review the source of an input that some may want to question. When you review these areas of possible contention, also discuss how you verified the decisions you made so that further questions don’t need to arise. Other than those key details that impact the conclusion, leave out the rest of the details.

But what if someone asks about one of the steps or a formula we used, shouldn’t I include everything just in case? No. You should anticipate possible questions and prepare answers for them. If you want to include a slide that will help answer the question, create a hidden slide that you can jump to if the question gets asked. You can include a hyperlink on the slide that will likely trigger that question, or use the ability of PowerPoint to jump to any slide to access the hidden slide from any point in the presentation.

In your next presentation, step back and focus on the conclusions that will impact the audience instead of listing every detail of your work. Your presentation will be more effective, your discussion with the audience will be more insightful, and decisions will get made faster.