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Darren Barefoot reports: <<PowerPoint has a lot to answer for. I think it's
been responsible for the dumbing-down of public speaking the world over.>>
Vinton Cerf is reputed to have coined the following witticism: "Power
corrupts. Powerpoint corrupts absolutely." <g> Clever man. But pace Cerf, I
think you're placing far too much power in the hands of the software. The
users have to take some responsibility too.
<<Why bother articulating and talking out an issue if you've got an animated
Because you sacrifice all credibility with the graph? <g>
<<Does anybody have any resources or advice on the correct use of
Let's assume that you've practiced the presentation well enough to speak
comfortably on it. That guideline applies to any presentation, not just
Powerpoint presentations. My top-ten list once you know what you intend to
say and can say it well:
- People are there to hear you speak, not to read your slides. Use the
slides to support your talk, not take its place. Don't read the slides--use
them to remind you of what you wanted to say, and in what order.
- Reduce your text to the minimum. Aim for one introductory line, up to four
bullets, and up to five words per bullet. If you need to say more, include
the text in the "speaker's notes" part of the window and make your
presentation available for downloading.
- If it takes longer, use two slides rather than cramming it together into a
- If you use bullets, bring them onscreen one at a time, not all at once.
Pause long enough for someone to read the five words I recommended (a few
seonds after the bullet arrives onscreen), then start speaking once they're
no longer distracted by the "need" to read your text.
- Make the signal stand out from the noise: the text must be legible against
its background. Black text on a light (e.g., ivory) background is highly
legible without producing a glaring white screen that strains the eye,
particularly in a darkened room. White text on dark blue and yellow on dark
green also work well.
- Use fonts large enough to be read. A quick test, standing 10 feet back
from your monitor*: If you can't read it, neither can your audience.
* That's a sloppy way of saying it. A bit more precisely: Stand far enough
from your monitor that it seems to be the same width as the projection
screen will appear to a viewer sitting at the back of the conference hall.
The text must still be readable.
- Use graphics to communicate graphical concepts ("a picture is worth 1000
words"). Make sure you've got a pointer so you can point to any features of
the graphic that you want to emphasize while you talk. (You can do this
emphasis directly in Powerpoint by adding arrows one at a time as you talk.
If you don't know how to do this automatically, use one new screen per
- But: Simplify the graphics: nobody can read an unenlarged Excel
spreadsheet onscreen, and sometimes an illustration is simpler and clearer
than a photo. If necessary, crop and enlarge to show the details you're
- Eliminate all multimedia effects, with one exception: if you can't show
the concept any way other than through sound or animation. (It _is_ possible
to use animations and sound effectively. It's also possible to run a mile
faster than 4 minutes, but there aren't many who can do this.)
- Use a consistent template rather than building each screen willy-nilly.
When things such as logos jump around onscreen and colors, fonts (face and
size), and layout change seemingly randomly, the changes draw the eye. Don't
draw the eye unintentionally (i.e., unless doing so serves a useful
There are many more little things, but these are the top sins in my book.
--Geoff Hart, geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
Forest Engineering Research Institute of Canada
580 boul. St-Jean
Pointe-Claire, Que., H9R 3J9 Canada
"Wisdom is one of the few things that look bigger the further away it
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