I’ve been using presentation software for about as long as that kind of software has existed. Back in the DOS days, there was Harvard Graphics. It was crude compared to what we have today, and there were plenty of hardware limitations as well. With the advent of Windows, I moved to Lotus Freelance, and then later to Microsoft Powerpoint. Nowadays, Powerpoint is so prevalent that it’s almost become a generic term for slide presentations. (For the Mac fans reading this, I’ve also used Keynote from time to time.)
I’ve also attended lots of conferences and business meetings where presentations were a primary focus. Over the years, I’ve noticed what I like to think is four different approaches to using this type of software.
Type one is a type of presenter who is information-driven. Slides with lots of information, very basic construction. This type of person is often very data-oriented, and it shows in their presentation. While there may be circumstances where this type of approach is necessary, more often than not it results in an audience lost in the details or simply trying to keep up. Even worse, if the presenter insists on reading each slide, boredom will quickly set in and the presentation will lose its effectiveness.
Type two is an opposite of the first. This presenter prefers lots of bling, graphics, colors, animation, blinky fonts, and so forth. They know all the bells and whistles of the software and are not afraid to use every bit of it in their slides. Knowing the software is not a bad thing, but overdoing the graphics or animations can overwhelm the audience, and they’ll end up being distracted by all the special effects and lose out on what the presentation is actually about.
Type three is a balance of the first two. This presenter tries to keep things simple. The slides are not overloaded with information, nor are they overly flashy with animation or graphics. For most business presentations, this is the best approach. Use the information in the slides to sum up the topics you’re speaking about, not simply reading the info off the slide but rather speak from an outline and let the slides serve as emphasis. Use graphics and animation, but do so sparingly and only to highlight specific areas of the presentation, or to provide a respite to the audience after a data-intensive section. With practice, this type of slide show can be very effective and informative.
The last type is for experienced speakers, and is not really used for data-heavy discussions. This is a presenter who uses only images or media to emphasize the topic. I’ve seen this used very effectively, but usually only by experienced speakers who are comfortable with public speaking. I’ve never had the opportunity to build a slide show like this, but maybe one of these days . . .
Take the time to learn the software and practice your presentation skills, and PowerPoint (or Keynote!) can be a very effective tool!