PowerPoint Presentation Skills Tips for Effective Presenting

How often have you switched off (even for a few seconds) when attending yet another PowerPoint Presentation at work?

Our experience is that this probably happens more than 9 times out of 10.

So that’s about 90% of PowerPoint presentations where the lack of PowerPoint presentation skills actually undermines the very presentations PowerPoint is supposed to enhance.

So why do people continue down this road to presentation anesthesia?  And can we divert at least some of them to a more enlightened, creative approach?

Here are seven PowerPoint presentation skills tips to help you on your way.

1. Do you really need to use PowerPoint?

If its not absolutely necessary to use PowerPoint in your presentation then …


Next time you’ve a short presentation or talk to deliver, rather than immediately starting up PowerPoint to get the slides ready and using it again when you are delivering your presentation, think about what you want to say and how you might do that without using PowerPoint at all.

Check out our article on how to prepare a presentation to get some good tips on creating and structuring a presentation.  Then have a look at Tip 2 to see how to avoid using PowerPoint to prompt you.

2. Stop using PowerPoint as your prompt!

Once you know what you want to say, try and condense the words into a series of key phrases (prompts) that you can then refer to as you start to deliver the presentation.

Then put your prompts for the talk onto record cards (white sheets of cardboard roughly 6″ by 4″). Just like the photo on the right.

We use them all the time when training people in presentation skills.

By using these “prompt cards” instead of the PowerPoint you can eliminate one of the biggest problems with PowerPoint use today:-

Where the slides are there mostly as prompts for the presenter!

3. Ruthlessly reduce the number of PowerPoint slides

If you absolutely have to use PowerPoint during the presentation then use it as sparingly as possible.

Be ruthless in removing the unnecessary slides.

Use prompt cards for your prompts so remove any slides that might just be for your benefit.

Then review the set of slides AGAIN against your presentation and remove any more slides that you possibly can.

Be ruthless!

4. Use images in the PowerPoint slides whenever possible

Hopefully by now you’ll not be using PowerPoint slides as your prompts – so much of the text heavy bullet points will have disappeared.

But remember that ideally PowerPoint is a VISUAL aid that’s there to enhance your presentation – to help you get your message across and achieve your objectives.

Real visuals (ie Pictures) can help create feelings in the audience, can help make a complex process easier to understand etc.

So think carefully about opportunities you might have in your presentation to use pictures, graphs etc to compliment what you are saying and to help you get your message across.

5. Use headline summaries only for text slides in PowerPoint

If you must include some text in the presentation then pull out only the headline or summary information.

Keep to a maximum of 3 lines of headline text (summaries) on a slide and one slide title.  And make sure that each headline uses large fonts.  Aim to keep to 4 or 5 words maximum per heradline.

Try and include an image on the page as well to compliment the text.  But don’t use the clip art that comes shipped with PowerPoint.  Try a resource such as www.istockphoto.com or similar for photos.

6. Dont just use PowerPoint slides as your handounts

If you have to provide a set of handouts for your audience after the presentation then do so.

But it doesn’t need to be just copies of your PowerPoint slides.

Don’t constrain your presentation slides (if you’re using some) by having to include all the facts and figures that you might need to get across in your slides.

Keep the detail for the handouts and only have summary headline text on the slides.

7. Use hidden PowerPoint slides for the Q&A session

If you are likely to have questions either during or after the presentation then as part of your preparation you’ll probably spend some time brainstorming the likely questions and deciding how best to answer them.

So if you’ve the time, and only where appropriate, include one or more “hidden” slides that will help you answer some of the most difficult questions that you might get asked.

For example if you are talking about a process or a strategy in your presentation and have only covered things at a high level in your slides, then it might be useful to include a more detailed diagram of the contentious part of the process (for example) on a hidden slide that you can refer to ONLY if needed.

In summary

If you can then dont use PowerPoint at all.

If you have to use PowerPoint, then use it for the audience’s benefit and use it as sparingly as possible.

And remember it is supposed to be a VISUAL aid so use it for visual images and not just bullet points!

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33 Responses to “PowerPoint Presentation Skills Tips for Effective Presenting”

  • Dan:

    I strongly agree with your points here. PowerPoint becomes the point in all too many presentations. The speaker and what he/she is saying is trumped by the words(usually) and images (rarely) on the screen.

    Recently I have even noticed that, in order to see the screen more clearly, the speaker is put in the darkest part of the room, up front with the lights dimmed, in a corner, operating the laptop with one hand, holding a microphone in the other. It’s Wizard of Oz presenting, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”

    I stopped using PP long ago, and have returned to using OHP. Fewer compatibility problems, one person operation, warm in the winter time, the machine is my slave, not the other way around.

    Great post, Thanks.

  • presentation-skills.biz:

    Many thanks for the comments Dan … I’m probably not an advocate of the old OHP these days – but I know exactly what you mean.

    I’ve seen lots of presentations in too dark an environment – just so that people could read the text on the screen! Great excuse to fall asleep really!

    At least data projectors do seem to be getting more powerful these days … unless you are trying out one of the new ultra portable versions – in which case total darkness is probably a must!!

  • Frank S. Adamo:

    Excellent advice. One thing about point #1. I often suggest in my workshops to write their speeches (not to memorize them or to read them, but to refine and polish the speech). I further suggest to write their speeches on Word, using appropriate headings and subheadings, and then convert them to PowerPoint–not to use the slides in a PP presentation, but to print out the slides. Heading 1 because the title of the slide, Heading 2 becomes the major bullet point and Heading 3 becomes the subtopic bullet point.

    It’s a simple way to print an outline of a speech, particularly if one is limited to a lectern, e.g. during an after dinner speech. The fonts are large enough to read even at a distance from the lectern, therefore, you can move over to near the lectern, glance at the notes, and continue on to the next topic. If you are stuck behind the lectern, then at least you can step back a bit and still read the outline.

  • Craig Berntson:

    Excellent points.

  • Monique Beedles:

    I agree. I avoid power point where possible, and when I use it try to keep it as visual as possible with photos, diagrams and other graphics.

    Unfortunately, some of the universities where I lecture insist on power point. The students have come to expect the slides in advance. One university even has a KPI to increase the number of lectures presented in power point!

  • Lenny Laskowski:

    Most professional speakers who teach presentation skills, as I do, are NOT big advocates of PowerPoint. I encourage clients I work with to not use PowerPoint whenever possible. I work with them to teach them how to be more conversational.

    National Best Selling Author, “10 Days to More Confident Public Speaking”

  • Martin Shovel:

    Excellent post, as always. Thought you might be interested in a post on the same theme that I’ve just put up. Its title is – Warning: PowerPoint may cause template thinking syndrome. You can read it here: http://www.creativityworks.net/blog/

  • Kate:

    There is just one exception that I would include to the ‘not use ppt’ and that is someone who is new to presentations. I lecture in the garden field, so maybe that is different as most people like pretty garden pictures, but I have found that people can describe a picture and the plusses and minusses of a scene or physical plant. This is a way to promt and destress the presentor. I can do without for the most part, but I do encourage new people use these tools.

    My last presentation though was great one to use the new tools in ppt – I used active screen shots to show how to manipulate a series of images into a short video and put it onto youtube – it was great fun and so mamy people came up to me afterward to say how easy I had made it seem. So even for those of us who are experienced – these programs have a real advantage sometimes.

  • Lenny Laskowski:

    Like anything else, we need to use these tools sparingly. Powerpoint, just like overhead slides and any other visual aid needs to be an “AID” to your presentation and not become THE presentation.

    The audience does need some visual stimulus besides just hearing a speaker, especially those audience members who are visual learners. Powerpoint, just like overhead projectors are tools, which when used properly, can enhance a presentation.

    Used in moderation, visual aids can be used to get your message across more effectively.

    National Best Selling Author, “10 Days to More Confident Public Speaking”

  • Marci Reynolds:

    Perfect timing for this post. I am preparing a presentation and want to avoid powerpoints. I can use these tips immediately. Thanks!

    Marci Reynolds
    J2B Marketing

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