How to Rock PowerPoint

Six Tips for Creating Powerful, Persuasive Presentations

By Daria Steigman, founder of Steigman Communications, LLC and author of the Independent Thinking Blog.

Mention PowerPoint, and just about everyone will tell you they hate it. But why do we blame the tool for the fact that presenters abuse it (a lot)? It’s not like we badmouthed Quark and PageMaker because people used to bold, italic, underline, ALL CAPS—ALL AT ONCE—just because they could.

In Speaking PowerPoint: The New Language of Business, Bruce Gabrielle makes a compelling case for Microsoft’s oft-scorned presentation software. In a well-written, easy-to-read book crammed with actionable advice, Gabrielle demonstrates how PowerPoint is a “critical tool for driving strategy” that uses “the power of visual thinking to make ideas clearer and more persuasive.”

Here are my top six takeaways:

  1. There are two types of PowerPoint presentations. While ballroom-style decks are for presentation only, boardroom-style (business) decks can be built for reading, for discussion, or for presentation.
  2. Don’t Bury Your Lead. Gabrielle writes that starting with your top-line message “provides context for all the information that will follow, which makes it easier to understand your argument.” He also points out that being upfront with your thesis statement makes it harder for a busy business leader (client, company executive, and so forth) to get lost in—or start arguing about—the minutia of your argument.
  3. Tell a Story. Speaking PowerPoint offers 12 ways to frame what the author calls an “inciting incident,” including framing the uncertainty that will happen if nothing is done, appealing to nostalgia, and pointing to evolution (e.g., the world is changing; will your business keep up?).
  4. Your Deck Is an Iceberg. Gabrielle writes that “when planning your main message and support points, think of your slide deck like an iceberg.” In other words, about 10 percent should be above the waterline–what you want your audience to do and the 1-2 key points that support that most broadly.
  5. Build Your Slides on Paper—Not PowerPoint. “PowerPoint is a great tool for creating the final slides,” writes Gabrielle. “But there are other tools that are better for planning slides and will cut your design time in half—or more.” It is so obvious that you should build your slides on paper first that I can’t believe I haven’t been doing it all along. The author argues for mapping out your argument—and sketching out your slides—on paper because it’s a lot of work to build a slide, add in a chart, a graphic, or a table, or locate a good picture, and make it all look pretty. And a waste of time for every slide that ends up being dropped. Plus, it’s a lot easier to see what you have (and assess the flow of your argument and identify any gaps) if all your slides are laid out on the table.
  6. Think Chunks. Speaking PowerPoint talks a lot about how to organize your information—images, colors, text. There’s an entire chapter devoted to how the brain processes data, including how to chunk stuff together, using labels for ease of reference, and more. It’s amazing how you can take a hideous slide with a mass of data and make it both readable and memorable.

I know it’s hard to explain why a book about PowerPoint is a must read for entrepreneurs and other business leaders. But trust me on this one. We all do presentations—don’t you want yours to be as effective as possible? With Speaking PowerPoint, Gabrielle has written a guide that should be required reading for everyone who prepares and delivers business presentations.

Categories: general


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