A Comedian’s Perspective on Improving PowerPoint

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I put together a few tips on engaging with your audience in your powerpoint presentation… republished from the McCombs alumni newsletter:

  • Do your homework: Reach out to a handful of people before your presentation and ask what is the most important question on this topic that they would like answered. Not only will your material be more relevant, but you’ve let a few audience members know their opinion counts. It will have a positive influence on the energy in the room.
  • Less is more. One executive I’ve worked with, let’s call him “Charlie,” used to introduce cluttered slides with the useless disclaimer, “I know not everyone in the room can read this….” He failed to discern subtle nonverbal cues from audience members like squinting—or exiting.   The most influential slides I’ve seen deliver their message with only three to five words. It allows for an easy-to-read slide and keeps the focus on you. I never use a font smaller than 30-point, unless I’m presenting to a very small group or negotiating with my wife.
  • A picture is worth a thousand words. Although my English literature professor assured me this ratio doesn’t apply for a midterm essay, it holds true for PowerPoint. Since our minds absorb visual information faster, it’s a much more powerful way to convey your point. Impress your audience with a classic from Corbis.com, ShutterStock.com or even Flickr.com. My friend Charlie made the exchange and still had a few words left over.
  • Tell stories. Everyone loves a good story. Use client examples, or find a relevant reference through WSJ.com, NYTimes.com or an industry trade publication. Simplify the tale with the narrative formula: a) problem, b) solution, c) results. For a good story, those are the only elements you need. And possibly a dragon.
  • Schedule 20 minutes, and finish early. People love to get time back.

And finally, the most important rule bears repeating: always avoid redundancy.