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Nine steps to Powerpoint magic

Perhaps you've experienced it. You do a presentation and it works. It works! That's the reason we keep coming back for more, that's why so many of us spend more time building and giving presentations than almost anything else we do.

Here are some steps to achieve this level of PPT nirvana (Your mileage may vary. These are steps, not rules):

  1. Don't use Powerpoint at all. Most of the time, it's not necessary. It's underkill. Powerpoint distracts you from what you really need to do... look people in the eye, tell a story, tell the truth. Do it in your own words, without artifice and with clarity. There are times Powerpoint is helpful, but choose them carefully.
  2. Use your own font. Go visit Smashing Magazine and buy a font from one of their sponsors or get one of the free ones they offer. Have your tech guy teach you how to install it and then use it instead of the basic fonts built in to your computer. This is like dressing better or having a nicer business card. It's subtle, but it works.
  3. Tell the truth. By this I don't mean, "don't lie," (that's a given), I mean "don't hide." Be extremely direct in why you are here, what you're going to sell me (you're here to sell me something, right? If not, please don't waste your time or mine). It might be an idea, or a budget, but it's still selling. If, at the end, I don't know what you're selling, you've failed.
  4. Pay by the word. Here's the deal: You should have to put $5 into the coffee fund for every single word on the wordiest slide in your deck. 400 words costs $2000. If that were true, would you use fewer words? A lot fewer? I've said this before, but I need to try again: words belong in memos. Powerpoint is for ideas. If you have bullets, please, please, please only use one word in each bullet. Two if you have to. Three never.
  5. Get a remote. I always use one. Mine went missing a couple of weeks ago, so I had to present without it. I saw myself on video and hated the fact that I lost all that eye contact. It's money well spent.
  6. Use a microphone. If you are presenting to more than twenty people, a clip on microphone changes your posture and your impact. And if you're presenting to more than 300 people, use iMag. This is a setup with a camera and projector that puts your face on the screen. You should have a second screen for your slides--the switching back and forth is an incompetent producer's hack that saves a few bucks but is completely and totally not worth it. If 400 people are willing to spend an hour listening to you, someone ought to be willing to spend a few dollars to make the presentation work properly.
  7. Check to make sure you brought your big idea with you. It's not worth doing a presentation for a small idea, or for a budget, or to give a quarterly update. That's what memos are for. Presentations involve putting on a show, standing up and performing. So, what's your big idea? Is it big enough? Really?
  8. Too breathtaking to take notes. If people are liveblogging, twittering or writing down what you're saying, I wonder if your presentation is everything it could be. After all, you could have saved everyone the trouble and just blogged it/note-taken it for them, right? We've been trained since youth to replace paying attention with taking notes. That's a shame. Your actions should demand attention (hint: bullets demand note-taking. The minute you put bullets on the screen, you are announcing, "write this down, but don't really pay attention now.") People don't take notes when they go to the opera.
  9. Short! Do you really need an hour for the presentation? Twenty minutes? Most of the time, the right answer is, "ten." Ten minutes of breathtaking big ideas with big pictures and big type and few words and scary thoughts and startling insights. And then, and then, spend the rest of your time just talking to me. Interacting. Answering questions. Leading a discussion.

Most presentations (and I've seen a lot) are absolutely horrible. They're not horrible because they weren't designed by a professional, they're horrible because they are delivered by someone who is hiding what they came to say. The new trend of tweaking your slides with expensive graphic design doesn't solve this problem, it makes it worse. Give me an earnest amateur any day, please.

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