Selling with PowerPoint: Taking Control of That Critical First Meeting
How to make truly horrendous PowerPoint Slides
Author: Ray Blake
Date Created: February 8th 2004
Last Updated: June 14th 2012
Ray is Head of Software Design at GR Business Process Solutions, a UK-based business which provides specialist services around knowledge testing and skills assessments. He develops and sells Excel, Access and Visual Basic applications, both as off-the-shelf products and as custom jobs to meet specific client needs.
The website he maintains for his company GR Business Process Solutions contains a range of articles of interest to Office developers, and a page of RAQs (Rarely Asked Questions) on Excel and Access.
With three sons all under the age of 6, he gets little time for interests of his own, but seems to get dragged into each of theirs. Consequently, he has built up an impressive knowledge of young persons literature, mostly surrounding the adventures of rodents and other small mammals. Although not proud of the fact, he can also name each of the Wild Force Power Rangers. Repairing toys and replacing batteries are activities he has learned to undertake in his sleep.
Let me take you back to the days of my childhood in the 1970s. In many ways, this was a more carefree time, of course. People had respect for their elders, the village bobby was always welcome for a chat at the garden gate, pop records had real tunes and you could understand the words.
Back then, there were 3 channels on the TV and the programmes for us children would run out before the 6 oclock news. Manys the day when the strains of the Captain Pugwash closing theme would fade out and the strident chords of the BBC News bulletin would cruelly break in long before I was sated. In desperation Id watch the opening minute or two of the news in the hope that there might today be a special version for children with cartoon characters.
The daily disappointment was sometimes tempered when the shot
cut from a talking head to something cooked up by the BBC Graphics
department. It might be some bullet point text listing the key
points from the budget, or some stick men, boats and fish depicting
the days manoeuvres in the Cod
War. But always Id stare in awe at these screens, marvelling at the technology which allowed such things to be brought to us in full, black and white glory.
Nowadays, of course, this god-like power is easily available to all of us, thanks to PowerPoint and products like it. Sadly, though, this is rarely backed up by the sort of design aptitude and formal layout training that Im sure the BBC Graphics department used to insist on for its staff. Not to put too fine a point on it, the majority of PowerPoint presentations we are all now subjected to contain some of the most heinous design crimes since the Vision On Gallery closed its doors.
Id like to share with you some of the most widely-perpetrated
of those crimes, through examining some slides Ive gritted
my teeth to create specially for the purpose of lambasting. If,
whilst looking at these slides and reading my diatribes, you spot
some of your own sins, then please be reassured that there is not
a single error I will highlight here that I have not
at some time made myself; indeed, I am in several respects a multiple recidivist. Console yourself also with the thought that I have no formal design training either, and that this critique represents merely the opinions and prejudices of a man who has already freely admitted to an attachment to childrens television from the early 1970s.
That being said, lets start with a truly hideous example of what is possible in PowerPoint. Have a look at Exhibit A.
Exhibit A: So much to say, so little room
So, where do we start with this one? This slide has a number of errors:
- I think the first point is that the sidebar and the slide
title are vying for attention quite loudly. Its a battle
that either of them could win, but your text stands little chance
of scoring a hit in such heavy crossfire!
- And speaking of that sidebar, it has stolen a good 20% of
your screen space. Up on the wall, thats a huge acreage
which you cant use for anything else.
- Your logo is also cramping your space. Without the contrived
short bullet at the bottom, youve lost another third of
the remaining slide space. And what is that logo doing there
on every slide? Do your people really need a constant reminder
of who they work for or which company is presenting to them?
A logo belongs only on your welcome slide. Have this showing
for 10 minutes prior to the start of the presentation, and anyone
wandering into the wrong room will as a result of your logo quickly
realise their mistake and be on their way.
- Typographically, theres a lot going on for a single
slide, including text oriented at three different angles. As
a general rule, no more than two fonts should be used per slide
(one for the heading, one for body text) and these ought to be
consistent between slides. Any orientation other than horizontal,
left to right should be used very sparingly for extreme emphasis
and only once on any one slide. If you need to know which fonts go together,
do a web search for font families.
- And what about the words themselves? Do they support what
you will say, or do they replace it? To appropriate an old analogy,
a PowerPoint slide should be used rather as a drunkard uses a
lamppost: for support, rather than for illumination. If your
slide says everything you are going to, just send the slides
and stay in bed. The first two points could have said just, Lead
generation and servicing instead of stealing
the speakers thunder entirely.
- When bullet points span more than one line like this, you
should really put more white space in between them to make them
stand out as individual items.
- That last bullet point says an awful lot about the speaker,
and nothing thats good. A skilful speaker will not need
this pseudo-cheerful, pseudo-jokey prompt because he will have
created a fun element already. An unskilful one will find that
the only humorous response this bullet provokes is ironic and
at his expense.
- While were on the subject of bullet points, they should be used sparingly. Slide after slide of the damned things are dreadfully tiring, ultimately resulting in a phenomenon known as death by bullet point in which the audiences attention leaves the room after three slides, followed after three more by their will to live.
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