About Presentations

A student wrote in asking about my ideas about presentation design for a project that she I and are working on together. Here is advice I have found useful, based on what I’ve read/seen online, and for having delivered and sat through presentations:

  1. Be clear about how the presentation is going to be used. Is it meant to be read by participants as a hand-out or on their screens, without you or somebody else being around to deliver a talk? That means lots more details, more notes, and a much lengthier and text heavy presentation. My sincere advice would be to not design a presentation, but to use a document (Google Docs/MS Word/whatever you prefer) instead.
  2. But if the presentation is a complement to what you – the speaker – are going to say, use the 10-20-30 rule.
    “It’s quite simple: a PowerPoint presentation should have ten slides, last no more than twenty minutes, and contain no font smaller than thirty points.”
  3. You’re taking up the audience’s time: value it. If you have thirty people listening to you for thirty minutes, that’s fifteen hours that could have been spent doing something else. Your presentation should be worth that time, you have a huge responsibility on your shoulders. Not enough people appreciate this, unless they happen to be in the audience.
  4. Ruthlessly edit the number of words on your slide. The “30” part of the 10-20-30 rule is a heuristic, and the idea behind it is to force you to use lesser words.
  5. The words that do remain on your slide should be “keywords”, and should be words that you want your audience to remember after the talk is over. If this is not true, then why do you have that word on your slide in the first place?
  6. If you’re presenting a chart, or a table or an infographic, make sure the corresponding title answers the question “So What?”. If your chart shows that sales have gone up in the last four quarters, don’t title the chart “Sales Have Gone Up In The Last Four Quarters.”
    Does that mean you need to hire more workers? Increase inventory? Increase shift timings? Each of these (and so many more) are the “so what’s”. Make the most important of these the title of the chart.
  7. Don’t use the default color template that PowerPoint (or any other software) gives you. Take the time and trouble to figure out how to change the color template, and use one that is appropriate for your presentation. It helps make your presentation more memorable. But also note that simplicity is underrated!
  8. Check, double check and triple check for spelling mistakes. (I’m being a hypocrite right now, because I discover typos in my older blogposts all the time, and it kills me). For presentations, I usually add a thick black diagonal line to each slide, and only remove it after I know that I have double checked each word and element on that slide.
  9. For truly important presentations, have somebody else do the same thing after you’ve done it yourself. A fresh pair of eyes really helps!
  10. Always be prepared to deliver a presentation without the corresponding PPT. Yes, you may have back-ups, but there will be the occasional time when nothing has worked and everything has failed… but the show must go on. Be prepared!