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March 8, 2012

By Jerry Rackley

Just last week I read the latest article to slam Microsoft PowerPoint as a communications tool.  Just do a Google search on “Death by PowerPoint” and you’ll find plenty of negativity.   I’m amused by marketoonist Tom Fishburne’s take on this issue, which you can view here.  But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Microsoft with its $267 billion market capitalization (as of March 7, 2012) doesn’t need me to defend PowerPoint.  But if Microsoft wishes to show its appreciation for this blog post, I’m happy to recommend the Demand Metric Team membership to the company.  My point is this:  let’s not be so quick to point the finger of blame at PowerPoint for poor presentations and presenting skills.

It’s true – PowerPoint makes it easy to put together a bad presentation.  But using the technology as an excuse is like the carpenter blaming the tools for shoddy workmanship.  So let’s stop blaming PowerPoint for our failure to communicate. We as marketers should set the standard for excellence in communicating, after all, that’s fundamentally what marketing is.  So whether it’s a billboard, slide deck, web page or Youtube video, let’s do what we do best:  communicate.

When PowerPoint made its debut in 1987, it was just the medium, not the message.  In these past 25 years, we’ve let the medium encroach into message territory.  Whether you’re using PowerPoint or a cocktail napkin, it’s all about the message.  The place to start is with crafting and refining your central message.  Once you’ve figured that out, pick the medium that best conveys it.

If PowerPoint is that medium, here are some best practices:

  1. The slide doesn’t have to say everything.  If it does, isn’t the presenter redundant?
  2. Think of the slide as a canvas, not a blank sheet of paper.  Practice a little artistry.  PowerPoint is, after all, a visual medium.  If you have access to a graphic designer, let him or her polish your slide deck up before it makes it debut.
  3. Don’t read the slides.  Duh.  Yet so many presenters do this!  When presenting, think of your deck as a set of notecards, not a script.
  4. Use the slide as a billboard.  Just one message per slide.
  5. Watch your density.  Don’t pack text on your slide.  Use a large font to prevent your slide from looking like license agreement.  Refer to point #1.
  6. Practice diversity.  There really are more fonts than Arial and Times New Roman.  I’ve grown fond of Calibri and Helvetica.  If you want to go a little crazy, check out Copperplate Gothic Bold.  Comic Sans?  No.  And stay away from the script-style fonts.
  7. Be like Lincoln at Gettysburg.  Just a few appropriate remarks.  Audiences value brevity and clarity.  If the goal of your presentation is to tell what time it is, don’t go into an explanation of how to build a watch.  You know what’s better than a 60-minute presentation?  A 30-minute presentation.
  8. Face the audience, not the screen.  Remember, you’re presenting to the audience, so address them and make eye contact.  If you’re facing the screen most of the time, you’re probably reading from the slides.  Refer to #3.

PowerPoint is still a very effective communications tool when used properly.  Follow these best practices and you won’t be a merchant of death by PowerPoint.  Do you have any tips you would add to this list?  Share them with us!  If you’d like to know about Demand Metric services for helping improve your presentations or other communications materials, please get in touch with us.

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