December 20, 2017 Practice Points

Put Some Power Back into Your PowerPoint

By Linda G. Yang

The presenter I was watching had used yellow font on a white background, jammed several paragraphs on one slide, and talked at the screen instead of the audience. These PowerPoint sins are pretty easy to spot, but what can you do to not only avoid these mistakes, but also to make your presentations shine?

1. Text is Evil
Not only is the standard header-plus-bullet-points combination overused and boring, it also encourages you fill up the slide with text. People can’t read and listen at the same time, so the more text you have on your slides, the less your audience will be listening to you. Plus, you’ll also be tempted to read off your slides, and that is a sure way to lose your audience’s attention when your face is turned from them.

Bottom line: Treat each slide like an ad; expand with details in your speech.

2. Font is Important
Your font should be readable but stylish (sans serifs like Helvetica are great). Times New Roman is unoriginal. Stay away from Comic Sans, because no one will take you seriously if you use it. For a visually engaging slide, use a large font size, sizes above 36 pt, and have enough negative space around the text. This will help you resist putting too much on one slide.

Bottom line: Your text should be in a simple font that is larger than what is comfortable from your desktop, but has room to breathe.

3. Look at Your Audience
This may seem like a no-brainer, but the temptation to look at your notes or at the screen is strong, especially when you’re nervous. Run through your presentation several times, and commit the key points to memory. This way, you are free to make eye contact with your audience, instantly making you a more captivating speaker.

Bottom line: Your PowerPoint should be pointing to you, and (ahem) not the other way around.

4. Use Images
Images make your message more powerful and say a lot more than an entire slide full of text. However, you should be selective, not overuse them, and definitely stay away from clip art unless you’re trying to be ironic.

Bottom line: People respond to images more than text, so let your creativity flow!

5. Colours are Nice
You know not to put yellow font on a white background, but have you tested out whether your colours are easy on the eyes when projected? Test it out. Some of the standard Microsoft colours are too bright to be used for text.

In addition, a consistent colour theme can make your deck look instantly professional. On one hand, you don’t want to use one colour throughout the entire deck. The lack of contrast will make your audience’s eyes glaze over. On the other hand, too many colours will feel sporadic and untidy. Get some inspiration online with colour themes. The bulk of your selected colours should be in one colour family, i.e., either warm (red, orange, yellow), or cool (green, blue, purple). And just like painting your living room, you should have one accent colour that you use sparingly for contrast.

Bottom line: A good, flat colour theme should help your text stand out without hurting your audience’s eyes.

Linda G. Yang is an associate at McMillan LLP in Vancouver, Canada.

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