Communicating with PowerPoint: love it or leave it

by Betty Lochner on December 15, 2010

One of the great debates in the world of communicating to a group is this: does a PowerPoint presentation help communication or does it get in the way?

I’ll the first to admit that PowerPoint presentations can be awful and bring out the worst in presenters.  The last time I was making arrangements to do a keynote speech, I mentioned that I would bring my PowerPoint presentation and the coordinator screamed: AAACK I hate PowerPoint. Clearly, she’s had a bad experience in that area.

But I truly believe that as communicators we need to rely on all three communication styles: oral, visual, and hands on.  A good communicator will try to incorporate all in a good way.

So, how do you do PowerPoint well?  Here are my top tips to using PowerPoint to enhance your communication to a group.

1) Limit your words and data.

Use mostly images instead of words and never, ever use it as a script.  You really will kill your audience if you read to them.  Be creative. Find pictures and short video clips online.

2) Use the rule of 4

Our brains can only focus on up to 4 things at once.  Keep your points on a slide to NO MORE than 4.  Ever. And, please don’t use sentences. Your brain is smarter than you and can figure it out with short “bullet” points.

3)  Make your data interesting and easy to understand.

Data doesn’t make much sense unless it is easy to see connections.  Take your data apart and put it back together in lumps. And, use lots of color. Keep it simple and uncluttered.  If you can’t read the data from the back of the room, don’t bother.

4) Come up with familiar terms for unfamiliar things.

Stay away from jargon and long boring words.  Find shorter, more common terms for what you are communicating. In short, keep it simple. Even make up words to get a point across.  I like to put words together and shorten them into something catchy.

5) Use it to grab attention and entertain.

For visual learners, they will be fine with whatever you put on the screen. But for our oral and hands on learners out there, they will not be impressed with anything unless it is really interesting or fun to watch.

The most important thing to remember when using PowerPoint is that people get distracted easily. Very easily. We have short attention spans and a boring PowerPoint can be the death of your presentation.  Keep it fun and use it to enhance, not take over your presentation.

6)Practice, practice, practice.

My last, and maybe most important, tip is to make sure your equipment works and that you know how to use it really well.  Bulbs brake, plug-ins don’t work, and just about anything that can go wrong might.  So be prepared.  Watching someone suffer through technical difficulties or faking a presentation when things go wrong is pretty embarrassing.

When PowerPoint is done right, it really can be a good communication tool.  How do you feel about PowerPoint?


Betty Lochner is the Owner of Cornerstone Coaching & Training. She specializes in personal and organizational transformation and is the author of  Dancing with Strangers: Communication skills for transforming your life at work and at home.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Sethbebad December 21, 2010 at 11:45 pm

I personally hate Power Point. It can be a great tool, but as your blog mentions, it’s rarely used right.

A good presentation can be executed flawlessly without a Power Point presentation, if there does happen to be one of those unfortunate technical issues. Your Power Point should be pictures and short bullet phrases that you will repeat in your presentation anyways, so if you can’t use it, your speech is still salvageable.

So great article. You hit all the right notes with it. Use Power Point as an extra little goodie to spice up your presentation, not as a crucial component to it.

2 Betty Lochner December 19, 2010 at 10:03 pm

Thanks for the feedback, Donna!

3 Donna Daisy December 19, 2010 at 6:11 am

Great article about Power Point, Betty. Right on! Loved it.

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