PowerPoint doesn’t kill people, bullet (points) do – Part 1

Posted on: April 4th, 2013

PowerPoint gets a very bad rep these days but that’s generally a case of pilot error. The mistake most people make is in not being clear on exactly what it is they are producing.


Yes PowerPoint can be used to make some very insightful, fact-packed and in-depth documents. But you’re not giving a document, you’re giving a presentation. As the name suggests, it should be Powerful and to the Point. And here’s how…

Take Your Time

There is a famous quote in which a writer begins a missive to a friend with the opening line, “I am sorry to write such a long letter, I didn’t have time to write a short one”. In fact it is so famous it has been attributed to at least five different people but the sentiment holds true. Give yourself plenty of time to write and refine your presentation rather than cutting and pasting the ‘About Us’ section of your company website onto a slide.

Follow the 10/20/30 rule.

This states that every presentation should be no more than 10 slides, take 20 minutes and that any text should be no smaller than 30 point. According to a study conducted by Staples, the average adult can read at approximately 250-300 words per minute with a typical business executive doubling that but the normal rate of speech is around 120 words per minute.

So, if you are simply reading out loud a list of bullet points, your audience will have finished at least twice as fast as you can, lose interest and start checking their Facebook. It can sometimes be quite insulting to be read to in that manner – I’ve been able to read for myself since I was three, I don’t need someone to do it for me. I don’t mind them telling me a story however, which brings me on to my next point…

Create Curiosity

How many presentations have you sat through where you weren’t anticipating the next idea, you were just waiting for it to end? Tease your audience with bold images and ‘headlines’ that make them sit up in their seats before revealing the idea behind them.

The curiosity needs to come before the content because that’s what makes people pay attention to it. Putting all the content up on screen straight away is like reading the last page of a murder mystery before you begin the book.

Show Don’t Tell

Images are far more noticeable and less likely to distract attention. They can be taken in at a glance allowing the audience to then refocus their attention on what you are saying. Use the image as your cue. Images are also far better at creating an instant emotional connection and it is this that will really engage your audience and have them believing in what you are telling them.

Introduce topics of ideas using short (three or four word) phrases as arresting hooks. Don’t be afraid to use props and mood boards as adjuncts to the main presentation, especially if it is something that can be handed round to draw people into the experience.

Half as Long is Twice as Good

The most famous and memorable speech in history, the Gettysburg Address, was just two minutes long. Attention spans are getting shorter – the average YouTube video is just over four minutes long – so if it can be cut then cut it and then…

Cut To The Shark

Spielberg didn’t start Jaws with a biopic of Chief Brody, it started with a girl being eaten by a Great White. Open with the challenge we have been asked to address and go straight into how we will do it. There is no need to start with the research we did and the background to the brief. The company itself probably knows this better than we do and if they don’t it can be addressed in the Q&A.

Keep an eye out for Part Two of my PowerPoint tips next week!

Posted by Henry Biggs

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