Effective PowerPoint Presentations

Based on PresentationZen: simple ideas on presentation design and delivery by Garr Reynolds (2008)
PresentationZen by Garr Reynolds challenges individuals and organizations to rethink how they use PowerPoint to enhance their presentations. He insists that “A good oral presentation is different from a well-written document, and attempts to merge them result in poor presentations and poor documents.”
"Communication is about getting others to adopt your point of view, to help them understand why you’re excited (or sad, or optimistic or whatever else you are.) If all you want to do is create a file of facts and figures, then cancel the meeting and send in a report. Make slides that reinforce your words, not repeat them. Create slides that demonstrate, with emotional proof, that what you’re saying is true not just accurate.” (Seth Godin, author of Meatball Sundae)
Reynolds urges us to skip the bulleted lists and screens full of information. PowerPoint presentations are visual and should rely on the same principles and techniques as films or comics to get their message across.
Presentation Principles
Citing Chip Heath (Made to Stick), Reynolds lists six key principles for ensuring that your presentation is effective and memorable. They are:
Simplicity – Reduce ideas to their bare essential elements: What is the key point? Why does it matter?
Unexpectedness – Surprise people. Show people the gaps in their knowledge and help fill those gaps. Take people on a journey.
Concreteness – Use concrete words and images rather than abstract expressions.
Credibility – Provide context and meaning to support your data. Use quotes and put things in terms people can visualize (‘hallway as long as a football field’).
Emotions – Make people feel as well as think. A photograph of the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina will be more effective than facts and statistics.
Stories – People love listening to and telling stories. They’re an effective means of communication because they neatly package together information, visual images and emotion.
Design Principles
Reynolds endorses seven design principles:
Signal vs Noise Ratio – Avoid cluttering up your presentation with irrelevant information or graphics. Keep it simple. For example, use your company logo on the first and last slides – not on all of them.
Picture Superiority Effect – Pictures are more memorable than words. Use good-quality stock photos, not clip art. (Reynolds recommends http://www.istockphoto.com/)
Empty Space – “Empty space can be dynamic and active through careful placement of positive elements.”
Contrast – Use contrast to emphasize the most important elements.
Repetition – Reusing certain elements provides unity, consistency and cohesion.
Alignment – “Nothing in your slide design should look as if it were placed there randomly.”
Proximity – Group related items together to help viewers understand their relationship.
Don’t try and use your slides as a handout. “Projected slides should be as visual as possible and support your points quickly, efficiently, and powerfully. The verbal content, the verbal proof, evidence, and appeal/emotion come mostly from your spoken word.”
The written handout should be able to stand alone and should combine background information for people who may have missed the presentation as well as in-depth content (e.g. additional graphs or statistics) that couldn’t be covered in the actual presentation.
Delivery Principles
Pay attention to your audience’s information needs.
Connect with your audience both logically and emotionally.
Get out from behind the podium and keep the lights on. The central figure is the human presenter – not the slides.