Recently, one of our team members shared this article with me. (Go ahead, take a look...) In his email, he simply included the line "Oh my God, yes."
The headline? "Are These the 8 Worst PowerPoints the Government Has Ever Produced?"
The answer? Oh my God, yes.
No matter where your politics fall, I think we all can agree that this set of slides is enough to make anyone weep. Forget that this is pertinent, life-altering information: chances are you wouldn't want to read a recipe for brownies laid out in this format.
When we end up with slides like this, our intentions are so good; we want everyone to have all of the information. All. Of. It. We hope these slides will supplement what we're saying, to help us hit our messages home. Whether the information is top secret, life-or-death, or your quarterly wrap-up, we want to jam as much content as we can in there. Because hey, it's important, right?
But let's step back a bit. What can we do to overcome that "don't want to miss a thing" feeling in our slide decks? How can we keep our best of intentions from flooding the audience in a sea of tiny text, data points, and meaningless graphics?
How can we use those 8 slides *shudder* as a proverbial, teachable moment? Here are some simple presentation ideas to keep your PowerPoint human:
1. Your intentions are good!: But, as the old adage goes, the road to hell is paved with those good intentions. You can do a lot of simplifying if you ask yourself, "What do I want them to know?" followed by "What do they need to know?" The simple answer: they don't need to know every single thing you want them to. When you focus on their need to know, rather than your need to tell, you can start to eliminate superfluous facts.
2. Approach your graphics like the normal, everyday human you are: Does your graph make no earthly sense? Do you have more lines and arrows than a United Airlines route map? Does your flow chart flow to nowhere? Graphics don't help you if they aren't easily discernible by the crowd. Remember, you can always save a more detailed version of things for your legal. But when it comes to sharing charts and graphics with an audience, put yourself in their shoes. If you, as a normal, everyday human being find your graphic overloaded and confusing, revamp it or don't use it. If they can't read it or follow it, they won't be able to process and receive the content, anyway.
3. Use your words: Turn off your screen, and simply give your audience the information. When you've got the equivalent of a drive-in movie projected behind you, you're splitting the focus of your audience. They don't ALWAYS need to look, and sometimes they ONLY need to listen. Then, when you choose to bring your slides back with clear graphics and simple text, you can support your message. For years, before PowerPoints, before flip charts, heck, before the phone, people occasionally stood in front of other humans, and gave them information. And they got it.
4. But wait! Don't throw the baby out with the bath water: Enjoy your PowerPoint! If you are using it, embrace the fact that you live in the future, where you can essentially create a moving picture from your desk, and project it behind your head. Come on, if someone wanted to give you a hovercraft that could travel through time, would you say no? Right! So, enjoy your technology. Just remember, even on a time-traveling hovercraft, you're the one in charge. Think streamlined and simple, and you'll find your slide deck won't come between you and your important message.
Do you find that your good intentions overcrowd your slide decks? How do you deal? Let us know in the comments!
And here are some more ideas you won't want to miss: