Nerd Guru

Because technical people need good soft skills to get ahead.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

PowerPoint Tactics: Part 3 - Slide organization

There will be many occasions in your career when you will have to convey information utilizing presentation graphics software such as Microsoft PowerPoint to a roomful of people. There are numerous psychological studies that show that there are more people who claim a fear of public speaking than there are who admit a fear of death. Put another way, some people would prefer dying to making a presentation. It does not have to be like that. How should your presentation be structured so as to increase the odds of your important points sticking in the minds of your audience? What other aspects of an oral delivery should you keep in mind?

The first step to alleviating any fears of making presentations you might have and increasing the chances of getting your ideas heard is organizing your material properly. Your presentation is essentially a story. Tell that story in a random manner without structure and you will confuse your listeners. Tell it with a clearly outlined logical flow will and your audience will understand it.

Among the first things to consider is the number of slides your presentation should have. Nobody wants to hear you say, “I only have 43 slides, so this shouldn’t take long.” Any good public speaking course will tell you that, in most cases, you will be unable to make more than three key points in an oral presentation. That does not mean that you should only have three slides (you will need slides to support each of your key points) but it does mean you should carefully think about what it is you want your audience to learn and retain from your presentation. What are the top three things they should know? What things are not as important to them even though they may be important to you? You may need to make some tough choices, but if you present too much information at once you run the risk of nobody remembering anything you said.

Every slide set should begin with a title slide:







Figure 1: A PowerPoint title slide



As shown in Figure 2-1, it should have a title for your presentation, an author line, and a date indicator. Think twice before listing just yourself as the author. Is the information contained within the presentation solely constructed or obtained by you? If not, putting your name exclusively as the author can potentially alienate your teammates, who may have contributed to the points being presented even if you are the one orally delivering the findings. This is an easy way to inadvertently make enemies. You will get recognition for your efforts by virtue of being the one making the presentation, so be sure to be as inclusive as possible when writing out an authoring credit.

Also, by putting your name as the only author, you set yourself up to answer all questions generated from the presentation after the fact. Almost every time you present a set of slides, you will be asked to send an electronic copy to everyone who attended the meeting so that they can view them later. This fact becomes important in a few places when constructing your presentation. Recipients will likely take that electronic copy and save a copy of it on their personal computer. Some time later, they will look at the slides, come up with a question, and go looking for an answer. This can potentially be good thing for you as you can look like the person with all the answers. It can also be a bad thing if you are distracted from your regular tasks answering questions that other people on your team can handle. For these reasons, it is best to put a team name as the author of the presentation even if you are going to be the one talking through the information.

The date listed is important too. Ideas often evolve and you cannot always count on the time/date stamp on the electronic file to help identify which version of a presentation two people may be referring to when questions arise later. Version number schemes vary widely in format and can be useful, but the most universal method for identifying change status is simply to state the last date the information was updated.

Next, clearly outline your agenda similar to the example given in Figure 2 below:


Figure 2: A sample agenda slide


Much like some of the topics covered in Making yourself easy to be scheduled, this is about setting expectations. The agenda slide serves as a table of contents for your presentation and gives your audience a view of the information you plan to present them that they can mentally (or explicitly, as will be demonstrated later) follow along as you go. Like the chapters of this book, it is a good idea to have a “What is this and why it is important” section of your presentation telling your listeners why they are spending their valuable time with you. Much like the opening paragraph of the classic five paragraph essay commonly taught in grade school, this section should present the context for your presentation and outline the important points you are about to detail. Similarly, the “Conclusions and Next Steps” section is analogous to the closing paragraph of that five part essay and should present the anticipated evolution and/or list out deductions of the topic in question.

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