Sales reports, client pitches, year-end reviews—all these entail making a presentation. No wonder most companies require their managers to know how to use Microsoft Powerpoint. And luckily, the program is very easy to master. Within a day, you’ll be able to figure out how to format a slide (and even add a few screen graphics, too).
But while most people know how to use Powerpoint, very few actually know how to use it well. In fact, most Powerpoint presentations are downright horrible—long, tacky, and confusing. Here are secrets to creating Powerpoints that work.
1. Use short, powerful phrases
Many people use Powerpoints as some kind of teleprompter, pasting entire sentences (or even paragraphs) so everyone ends up reading the report from the screen.
The problem with that is that you lose the opportunity to interact with your audience, who’ll pay more attention to your slide than you. Your Powerpoint should only hold key words—ideally, active verbs that make a powerful point. For example, instead of posting all the names of the clients or accounts your department serviced in the last quarter, just put one phrase on the slide: ‘Sales increased by 25%.’ You can the details in print-outs, that people can refer to when they’re ready, or just elaborate in your talk. Make cue cards if you’re worried about forgetting something—Powerpoint lets you print out slides with space for notes.
2. Use the rule of three.
Studies show that people can only remember three different points at a time. Anything else after that is forgotten or comes out muddled. So, try to center your presentation around three key concepts (and group or summarize data around these). For example, instead of droning on and on about the different cost-cutting measures your company has taken in the last six months, say: ‘It all boils down to reducing waste, finding cheaper alternatives, and focusing 80% of our resources on the biggest areas of growth.’ Then, you can just give key examples for each category. ‘We outsourced xxx and saved xxx dollars.’
3. Give concrete pictures.
Powerpoint is a visual medium, so avoid presenting abstract numbers or vague concepts or terms. Instead of making a table of your region-by-region sales performance vs. competitors, use a pie chart. Instead of boring your audience with jargon and complicated terms like ‘quality assurance and safety enhancement measures’ take a picture of your factory and say: ‘We have not experienced any mechanical failure in 2,976 working days.’
4. Don’t dominate the conversation.
Pause frequently in the presentation to allow people to ask questions or give feedback. Not only will this let you rest your voice (and collect your thoughts) engaging your audience will help you keep their attention. Ideally, you should be able to relate the other slides with what people said. For example, ‘Bill, you mentioned earlier that your customer service team has gotten a lot of complaints about Product X. I can see what you mean—this slide shows that that product only has 30% market share. After this meeting, let’s talk about what we can do to address consumer concerns.’ Which reminds us of the next tip…
5. End with an action plan.
Your last two slides should have a summary of your presentation and, most importantly, your recommendations for the next steps. Facts are pointless if they don’t lead to action, and a smart manager uses these presentations to gain support or approval for a particular policy or project. For example: ‘Given the increase in sales in Region XX, I recommend allocating a similar marketing budget and marketing plan for Region YY, which has had no growth in the last 3 years.’
6. Don’t go crazy with the special effects.
A lot of people get too excited when they discover Powerpoint’s special effects tools. They make slides disappear, fly, rotate, then add sound effects and dancing letters.
However, too many special effects are distracting and make your report feel as credible as a troupe of dancing clowns. Use special effects only to emphasize one very important point, and if you must use slide transitions, stick to one and apply to all slides.
And, as a rule of thumb, don’t use a special effect on the same slide where you’ll have a photo, graph, or other key visual tool. Using both is the equivalent of putting too much salt in the dish: you want to add ‘flavor’ to your presentation, but too much is a recipe for disaster.
7. Customize your Powerpoint backgrounds.
Powerpoints have ready-made backgrounds, but if you often make presentations to external stakeholders (like clients or suppliers) ask somebody to make a special background that shows your company logo and tagline. This is one cheap and yet effective way of showing ‘branding’ and communicating your company’s image and professionalism.Oh, and you don’t need a graphic design team to make a background! Just use your company’s colors and place a small logo at the bottom right of the page.