Presentation checklist: always simplify, never screenbean

The business world is awash in piles of words mis-classified as PowerPoint presentations. Here are three slides from a webside development vendor’s pitch:

Bad presentation example

Even at a distance, it’s clear you wouldn’t want to sit through this. Creating a compelling presentation is tough. There are, however, a few things that can make a big difference for your audience. Before you save your PowerPoint file as "final" and send to print, here’s a checklist of things that you should always do, do more of, do less of, and never do.

Always...

  • Tell a story. Great presentations tell a compelling and cohesive story. Stories have themes, characters, plotlines, and a message.
  • Build a flow. Try reading your slide headlines. Do the slides connect? Do they tell a story? Don’t be afraid to shuffle your slides to find a cleaner way for the concepts to fit together.
  • Provide a roadmap. Its easy to lose an audience if you have a complex argument or storyline. Give them sign-posts that let them know where they are and where they are headed.
  • Banish slides to an appendix. When I build a presentation, I will inevitably end up with slides that don’t fit neatly into my story. Find a home for them in the appendix; it’s the "green room" of your presentation where potentially useful material can hang out until it’s needed.
  • Simplify. Your story can be simpler. Your slides can have more whitespace. Be ruthless in cutting.

More...

  • Pictures, including full page pictures. Cliff Atkinson of the beyond bullets blog is a big proponent of pictures in place of words and offers a good, though extreme, perspective.
  • Changes of pace. Long, data intensive presentations easily become monotonous. Break these up with different kinds of slides, multimedia content, or audience interaction.
  • Animation in slides. While animation can be a distraction, it does have its place. In particular, if you have a complex slide, consider building the layers of information. It forces your audience to focus on just one part at a time.
  • Quick punchlines. It is always tempting to develop a presentation that gradually builds to an exciting conclusion. Save it for your great American mystery novel. Your audience is impatient to get to the point. Provide it to them up front.

Less...

  • Words. People use extra words to cover up when they don’t know precisely what they want to say. Enough said.
  • Bullets. A list with more than five bullets is beyond most people’s ability to process or remember. Long lists can be broken into subgroups.
  • Bullet-points. For short, simple lists, remove the bullet points.
  • Stock clipart: Microsoft has been generous enough to provide a world of clipart fun. Avoid that world as much as possible. Clipart is mostly useless filler.
  • Animation between slides. Unlike in-slide animation which can focus your audience, animation between slides is simply a distraction.
  • Capitalization. There are rules for when to capitalize. Capitalizing Almost Every Word in a Sentence is not One of Them.

Never...

  • Use ScreenBeans. Check this out: I found the ScreenBean store. For just $59.95, you can get a whole package of digital ant people running around in business settings. Trust me, there are cheaper ways to ruin a presentation. On that note, I found this slide in a presentation entitled: "Effective Presentation: Using Microsoft PowerPoint." Ironic?
Screen Beans