good powerpoint

Death by PowerPoint

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We’ve all sat through those countless boring PowerPoint presentations, in which the presenter drones on without the slightest ability to engage his or her audience, completely unaided by the graphics shown. You’ve seen it: too much text in awkward clashing colors with gimmicky graphics included for there own sake. Unfortunately, we can’t simply blame the tool and be done with it. PowerPoint isn’t simply the enemy, but a bad PowerPoint presentation does nothing to bridge the distance between the presenter and the audience.

powerpoint1Back in November, among the “sensitive” data that was hacked from Sony allegedly due to North Korea’s upset over the film “The Interview” were some painfully bad PowerPoint presentations (OK, maybe just mediocre) such as the sparse and generic “key themes” from the 2013 film Grown Ups 2. You may wonder how presentations on something as theoretically exciting as making a movie, could possibly be rendered so painfully boring. [Queue bad PowerPoint slide].

While we don’t intend to play film critic and weigh the merits of this almost-certain cinematic masterpiece, this slide of the themes of Grown Ups 2 make it look anything but.

Here are three guidelines for making a presentation which is both textually and visually engaging.

1.  Content is Key

There is nothing grown up in the nebulous abstract nouns in Grown Ups 2–if that’s the point of the film, then in that sense the slide succeeds.

Instead, know what you want to say before you attempt to put it in visual form–Don’t let the templates dictate the form. Make your content engaging through narrative form, rather than focusing in on minute details. Do you remember story time from kindergarten? As much as we like to think we’re not still a group of sniveling children, we all do still like a good story. Not only that, people pay better attention when there’s a plot arc. Stick to the formula of beginning, middle, and end. Think: what is it that you want to convey? How can you present it in a concise, compelling manner?  How can you avoid simply listing nouns either in a list or scattered as in the following example?

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2.  Less Text

To segue to the next point, simply presenting a list of categories is scattered and distracting. People read faster than they hear, so short, to-the-point text will help give your audience a sense of what you will be talking about, without distracting from what you’re actually saying by being too long and convoluted–like this sentence. (Though we also ought to note that bullet points are very passé and not visually interesting). Each of those topics in the previous slide could use their own slide, in which the points — from “beverages” to “video games” are fleshed out. Whether these points are worth making in the first place, we can’t help Sony with.  The following, “Grown Up Kids” slide, also has too much text. The presenter should have simply put the pictures on the slide and explained this innate marketing ploy when talking instead of committing it to print.

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3. Focus on Design

Aesthetics matter. The trend among companies right now is sleek and clean and minimal, and let’s face it, the Sony presentations are not.

Sony’s PowerPoints look trite, and overly “PowerPoint-y.” This is not to lay blame with the program itself. PowerPoint can be made to look fresh and clean, but it may do to sidestep it altogether, as it can be so easy to slide into that generic model provided by the preset templates we are all so familiar with. Be original–it’s more interesting!

A simple cosmetic fix may just involve changing programs, though, granted, that doesn’t address the root problem of a monotonous presentation.

Here are some alternative presentation programs that may breathe some much-needed life into an otherwise moribund presentation:

Prezi is an increasingly popular alternative to PowerPoint. Prezi is especially effective due to its non-linear and highly visual approach.

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For Mac users or those entirely PowerPoint-averse, our friends at Apple have created a competing presentation software of their own, Keynote, which many people find easier to use. Keynote’s main advantage is that its graphics and images provide a fresh alternative to the overused PowerPoint visuals.  Keynote’s ability to create powerful and beautiful presentations on and for iOS mobile devices is rather remarkable.

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As with everything–it’s all about presentation. It is easy to criticize Sony’s rather dated-looking slides. Harder is to create a compelling narrative that will engage your audience. Make your presentation program a useful tool for you in doing so–not a crutch. There is a way to escape the framework of PowerPoint and break out of the tedium that can be so pervasive. Let your content take the fore and let these presentation tools help you do it!

Question for readers:  What’s your best “trick” for creating engaging presentations?