The PowerPoint Balancing Act

(Edited to correct the name of Apple's Keynote software)

One of the challenges of presenting in PowerPoint (MSFT), aside from the groans in the audience about one more slide presentation, are the dual tasks of simultaneously creating content and delivering authenticity.

Yes, the slide contains information. (Otherwise, what is it doing there?) But that is not your whole message. The total message is what you say and how you say it. This balancing act creates a dilemma that pulls at two distinct disciplines: creation and delivery.

You can simplify this dual challenge by preparing not only your message, but your delivery in advance. Here are five things to consider.


When a presentation is created, it is good to keep the big picture in mind. Why are you giving this presentation? The reasons may be to provide a product overview or insights into an organizational transformation. Forgetting the big picture will cause the presenter to stray and go off track. Focusing on the context sharpens the message.


Your presentation must flow smoothly from slide to slide, so you need to develop links between the slides. Such links can be simple: " As you saw in the previous slide, we have challenges. Now let me go into detail on one of those challenges." Your goal is to provide a connection that gives the audience a reason to pay attention.


Every slide needs one to express the theme of that slide. Let's say you have one with a headline that says "Cost," "Quality," or "Urgency." These words need to be punched up and delivered with emphasis. Pauses before and after you say the headline can be effective, but it's not the only way. Work on developing your own personal style.


A good presenter balances facts with good tempo. Too much detail will sink the presentation. Savvy presenters learn to focus on a specific item in a slide—say a figure or a line on a graph—and tell a story about it. For example, a presenter might say: " If you focus on this trend line, you see that as more customers view our online videos, purchases go up." Make the words suit the picture.


Most presenters fall into the trap of reading the words on the slide; a few others ignore the copy and say whatever comes into their heads. Neither approach is good. While a presenter typically should not read, you can make an exception when the slide contains short, tight bullets or a quote. Then you use that headline as your basis of explanation.

There is an alternative: Develop a script for your slides beforehand, so you have a fully developed speaking text. Many senior executives have staff and speech writers do this for them. If the presentation is scripted in advance, presenters can focus solely on delivery, eliminating the need to develop the message as they speak.

PowerPoint is a convenient whipping horse for failed presentations. Yes, the program—and others like it, such as Apple's (AAPL) Keynote—allow for the creation of elaborate graphics, data-laden charts, and even video. A plethora of material is not the problem. The fault for a poor presentation lies not with the technology, but with the presenter.

The challenge is to concentrate on sharpening the message beforehand by focusing on what you will say and how you say it. When the time comes for you to deliver, you should be ready and raring to go, fully engaged to command your audience's attention.

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