In the past couple of years that I've had a Mac, a lot of people I've spoken to about presentation skills have remarked to me, "Oh, but you have Apple Keynote for presentations. It's so much better than Powerpoint." At the end of several of my presentations people ask me, "You didn't do that in Powerpoint, did you?". Whenever I do one of my talks on presentation skills I invariably have some people in my audience start off the discussion with a "Powerpoint sucks..." refrain. And the fact is that I've very loosely used the phrase "Death by Powerpoint..." in my conversations and talks. Today, I think it's high time that we give Powerpoint a proper defense. Let me say this -- there's nothing wrong with Powerpoint. It's probably the most versatile presentation tool on the planet and gives us a lot of power. The fact that we misuse it and give it a bad name has nothing to do with the quality of the tool itself. In fact, to rest my case I've gone ahead and created some awful slides using Apple Keynote and I assure you it took me little effort. I'm pretty sure I can do an awful Prezi and do similar stuff with Slide Rocket and Google Presentations. Convinced? I thought so!
Now to the skill of making good presentations. I think it's so simple, that anyone can do it. Nancy Duarte has made that point with an amazing presentation created solely in Powerpoint (above). In fact I'm going to use three presentations by our ThoughtWorks University students to make my point about things that you should absolutely do when you want to create effective presentations. And hopefully then, the tools will cease to matter.
Think Stories, not Facts
And I'm not talking about stories of the once-upon-a-time variety, though they may be cool too. I'm talking about why anything that you will say means anything to anyone. This is about how can you weave your message into an engaging timeline that captures attention, creates interest and evokes emotion. Last week, I shared with you SG Hill's hilarious Pecha-Kucha talk. Steve's talk had really simple tips on how to generate traffic for your blog. I could actually summarise the facts in a few lines:
- Start a blog.
- Get an analytics service to track your readership.
- Try a snazzy blog title, and creative post headlines.
- Have your friends comment liberally.
- Mention your blog to your friends.
- Provide an RSS feed.
- Publicise it on social networks.
Ditch the Templates
Most Keynote and Powerpoint templates are really well intentioned. Both Apple and Microsoft however, are trying to satisfy the natural urge of most users and companies - the urge to bullet point. No wonder most templates tend towards a bullet-point layout for their slides. Now of course you don't want to be like the others, do you? I'm sure you want to be different. If you do, you're perhaps on the right track.
"Be interesting, or be invisible." - Andy Sernovitz
The fact is, that in most cases you don't need a template. You just need a blank slide that you overlay with full-bleed images. Last week Andrew Kiellor did a pretty amazing presentation, giving us a tour of what we should see in Australia. I've embedded the presentation for you to see (above) and you'll notice that Andrew has maintained visual harmony in the top right of his presentation by moving an arrow across Australia's map. In that, it fits with his presentation title; Australia - A Tour. By including real, dazzling images of landscapes across Australia, Andrew didn't just have people gasp in the middle of his presentation, he also negated the need for a template.
I'm not saying that you'll never need a template though. There are times when you want to create a strong, visual consistency across your presentation and a template is real handy for doing that. Garrey Reynolds' presentation on thinking like a designer is an example of one such situation. In such cases I recommend you create your own templates. And believe me, it isn't rocket science. If you can get smart at using master slides, Tom Kuhlmann can show you just how easy it is.
Meaningful Imagery Counts
A few weeks back I saw Sam Tardiff do a cool presentation with a provocative title - 17 Reasons why AFL's better than your favourite sport. Now Sam's presentation may not be the prettiest presentation on the planet, but he very effectively takes images from real life and puts them in front of the audience to let them see why AFL is a superior sport. I particularly like reason 14 - take a look! There's something about visual evidence that makes messages stick for our audience. It's important to note that where a single image was going to struggle making a point, Sam used a video. In a time when most presentation tools allow unbridled use of media, it's crucial that we exploit it. It's also crucial though, that we maintain relevance. It's easy to go overboard with irrelevant stock imagery and as Martin Fowler often says, "Stock photos are the bullet points of the 21st century." I can't help but agree when I see cheesy, overused stock imagery on slides when an earthy, real life image could have done a world of good. Garrey Reynolds of Presentation Zen fame has an excellent article on 10 ways you can use images poorly in presentations - an excellent list of mistakes to avoid. And if you needed some inspiration on how to create beautiful slides you can be proud of, do read my 7 tips to whip your slides into shape.
I strongly believe that bad presentations have to do more with the presenter than the tool. That said, you need a capable tool to help translate your actions into a show. Powerpoint 2010 (Windows only), is a worthy upgrade and there are several good reasons for you to add it to your presentation arsenal. Sure, there'll be a few tools here and there that have an extra feature or the other, but I guess nothing beats Powerpoint's all round capabilities. And if you needed help on how to effectively use the tool, you always have experts to reach out to for help. So the next time you feel like blaming the tool, please don't. Go back to the drawing board and just try harder!
Update:BTW, if you wanted to take your presentation skills to the next level, here's your opportunity to learn from the best. Hear live from eight presentation experts without leaving your home - ain't that amazing?