Make PowerPoint Your Perfect Presenting Partner

We have all experienced ‘Death by PowerPoint’, and it isn’t pleasant.

There are few things more tedious than listening as a presenter reads from their zillionth over detailed slide, which they’ve also given you as a handout and emailed to you prior to the presentation. Under such conditions, an audience can perish in seconds.

This sad phenomena has given rise to the belief that the best presentations must be PowerPoint (or Keynote or Prezi) free; that the truly engaging presenter has no need for such aides.

There is another way however; used in the best way PowerPoint can still be a brilliant partner for you when presenting.

While it’s true that PowerPoint should never be entirely relied upon, it has the potential to add a little sparkle to your presentation.

Here are a few pointers:

1.       PowerPoint isn’t your Presentation. You are your presentation. If you are using PowerPoint it must be as an aide and support, it must never be considered the presentation. If it is, then why not just send it to audience and let them read it for themselves?


2.       Using PowerPoint creates a 3 way relationship. The mistake many presenters make is to place both themselves and their PowerPoint in the same position in relationship to the audience. For example, a presenter simply reads his own words at the audience from the PowerPoint, or a presenter reveals a slide after he has spoken which adds nothing to his words. In these cases, either the PowerPoint or the Presenter is redundant; one could be swapped for the other.


As an audience, when something is redundant on stage, we become distracted by it then bored by it.


The perfect starting point for planning a PowerPoint presentation is to consider the 3 way dynamic between yourself as presenter, the audience and the images / text on the PowerPoint. The tensions between these three positions are what make an engaging presentation.


3.       As a presenter, you need to define your relationship to your PowerPoint. The least engaging option here is: my PowerPoint is my script. Again, you make yourself redundant as a presenter.  Consider PowerPoint your presenting partner, there to help you and guide you through, but also make you look even better than you do on your own!


Perhaps PowerPoint is the straight man to your comic observations, or the comic comment on your serious information? Perhaps the images on the PowerPoint serve to boost the impact of your stats, or undermine an overblown statement? Perhaps the PowerPoint gives away secrets, or highlights subtext? Perhaps the PowerPoint sets the scene, or creates an atmosphere?


The point is PowerPoint must do something to work in compliment with or counterpoint to you as presenter and the content of your presentation.


4.       The PowerPoint must be 99% essential. If it isn’t essential, if it is nothing more than a prompt for you, than why use it? The audience don’t need it. It’s far better to use handwritten cue cards than to have everything you intend to say on your PowerPoint.


The PowerPoint must add to what you say.


Why 99% essential? If the technology fails you need to be prepared to deliver without it.


You are our presentation remember!

5.       Never hide behind your PowerPoint. It’s there to support you, and prompt you, and make you feel less alone in front of an audience, but you must remain in control and dominant.


It is your responsibility to define the relationship between yourself, audience and PowerPoint. If you choose to hide behind it, the audience will see that and be bored.


Be brave. Argue with it, challenge it, laugh at it, collude with it, laugh with it, stand behind it, support it, be supported by it, be undermined by it, undermine it, and tease it.


Do something with it!


6.       Remember it’s a visual aide. Use images. Keep it clear and simple. Text heavy, over detailed slides are impossible to take in during a presentation. Save the in depth detail for follow up documents, and your speech.


7.       PowerPoint is your presenting partner.


Like Morecombe and Wise, or Laurel and Hardy, or Kirk and Spock, or Tom and Jerry.


You’re partners in presenting, and like all good partners your differences make a satisfying whole.


David Windle