Project Management Institute

Harness the power of PowerPoint

BY MEREDITH GUETIG

Hook an audience (and keep it entertained) by following these simple rules when creating your next visual presentation.

We’ve all suffered through them.

Bright colors and mismatched fonts light up as they swirl across the screen. Bells chime as miniscule text scrolls along just a little too quickly.

While distractingly over-the-top design was once the presentation faux pas of choice, today’s speakers often go wrong in a number of ways. From using slides as speaker notes to saturating them with text, presenters can easily veer off track when designing a PowerPoint deck.

“The problem with PowerPoint and other slide tools is that they’re so easy, people can use them themselves. As a result, they make the classic beginner mistakes that a professional would never make,” explains Nick Morgan, PhD, president of the communications consultancy Public Words Inc. in Boston, Massachusetts, USA.

Like it or not, giving presentations is part of the job. Whether leading a kickoff meeting with the team or giving executives a status update, the following tips will help ensure your PowerPoint presentations are clear, professional and engaging. (For general presentation advice, especially for consultants pitching new business, see “Not-So-Modest Proposals.”)

BE SURE TO AVOID...

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“The number-one mistake presenters make is designing before they know what they want to say,” says Bruce Gabrielle, president of Insights Works, a PowerPoint training and consulting firm in Kirkland, Washington, USA. He’s the author of Speaking PowerPoint: The New Language of Business [Insights Publishing, 2010]. “It’s much better to plan a deck on paper. Once you know what you want to say, then you start producing.”

“We’ve got some pretty complex language in project management and we use it all the time,” says Ron Rosenhead, director of project management training at Project Agency, a project management training firm in London, England. “Clients and stakeholders will become confused and concerned because they don’t actually understand what we’re talking about.”

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“The higher up you go in an organization, the quicker you need to get to the bottom line,” says Jim Prost, owner of Prost Associates, a San Francisco, California, USA-based presentation skills consulting firm. “There’s a tendency for project managers to want to show all of the work they’ve done. But the CEO wants to see the bottom line, first and foremost.”

Storytelling can be effective technique. Whether you’re talking about your own experience or a case study of a past project, you can structure your presentation in three acts: Set up the story, develop the action and frame the resolution.

“It’s a very powerful tool because it shows how people connect with you,” Mr. Gabrielle says. “Your audience will still get the message, and research shows that storytelling will make them turn off that part of their brain that disagrees with you.”

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If you want to draw attention to a particular metric, for instance, that’s the only one you need to include. “Then it becomes something the audience can remember,” he says.

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“You’ll see an amazing transformation when you can organize and line things up,” he says. “It’s one of the easiest ways to make your slides look more professional and enhance your credibility.”

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Compile a glossary of project management terms to distribute to the audience, suggests Ron Rosenhead, Project Agency, London, England.

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Don’t use a colleague’s slides without proper preparation, warns Ron Rosenhead, Project Agency, London, England. “If you don’t know the language behind someone else’s thinking, things will go wrong,” he says. “Just one word can make someone say, ’What do you mean?’ You’re in trouble if you can’t answer that.”

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If you can’t read everything from a standing position, then your audience won’t be able to read it on the screen.

“People are shocked when they do that,” he says. “They assume the slides are going to be blown up on a big screen. But even on a large screen, when you move 25 feet (7.6 meters) away, the slide is reduced to roughly the size of a sheet of paper.”

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There’s a trick you can apply when you see the CEO‘s eyes begin to glaze over. Skip over slides using the numbers feature. Instead of pressing the enter key to move forward, press the number of the desired slide.

“Once people start getting a grasp on how to use PowerPoint more effectively, they’re going to find it’s one of the most powerful tools. They will realize it can be like a secret weapon for selling ideas inside a company,” Mr. Gabrielle says.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.

PM NETWORK SEPTEMBER 2011 WWW.PMI.ORG

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