Having recently been exposed to a number of information-rich Presentations (PowerPoint) I think it might be useful to re-state some basic guidelines. It is all too easy to fall into the trap of illustrating everything, and putting too much detail into slides. The result is a confusing presentation that causes people to switch off.
The most important thing to remember about visual aids is that they should assist the message, not become the message. A visual aid may be a flip chart, a slide, or some other prop. Its purpose is to aid understanding and recall. That’s all. It is not a substitute for the Presenter.
PowerPoint has seduced many presenters into overdoing the number of slides. They might as well put on a video! Here are a few simple rules.
1. Each visual aid/slide should have a single purpose — one message.
2. How many words? Follow the 7×7 rule. No more than seven lines and no more than seven words per line. Even better is the 5×5 rule, because you have five fingers on each hand, and each finger can be used to correspond to the five bullet points, as you present.
3. A slide must be a legitimate summary of what you will be saying in that part of the presentation.
4. In general, each slide must be a brief and clear summary that can be instantly understood. Its design should not send the eye in several different directions.
5. Projected slides are the brightest objects in the room. So beware of becoming subsidiary to the screen. Unless you are describing a graph or reading a quotation, do not face the screen and read the words of your slide. Your audience can read it faster, and will resent being read to.
6. Use the visual aid to make the point, then switch it off. If you are using PowerPoint, press letter ‘B’ and the screen will go black. When you need the visual to reappear, press ‘B’ again. You will then retain attention.
7. If you are using a flip chart, write in letters at least 2 inches (5cm) high. Do not write on a flip chart for audiences of more than 25 — those at the back will not be able to read what you write, unless you write HUGE with a broad nib marker.
8. Make sure the type for every word on your slides is large enough to be read from every part of the room. Check in advance. Do not rely on the tolerance of your audience.
9. Use pictures. A presentation with text-only slides is visually boring.
10. Practise the presentation, so that the slide changes are slick and unnoticeable. It helps to have a print-out of the slides in front of you, so that you know what’s the next slide and can lead up to it.
Finally, please remember that your focus should be on the message you want to impart – a message that arises within you, and one that you could, if necessary, put across without any slides at all.
What people want from you is your Wisdom, not your PowerPoint slides.