Time to clear the decks and make a new start

If I hear one more person badmouth PowerPoint, I think I’ll scream. In fact, I already have, in anticipation of the next criticism coming my way, which is only a matter of time. 

A poor workman blames his tools, I want to say. But I never do, because I’m far too tactful and diplomatic.

But seriously, are people saying that PowerPoint serves no useful purpose at all? That they could stand up there and do a presentation like Dave, note-free and happily rapping for an hour without corpsing? 

I doubt it.

And quite apart from live presentations, what about slide decks that are just read and never used for presentations. Don’t they have a part to play in your marketing armoury? 

Of course they do. And used well (I’ve seen this done on rare and pretty spectacular occasions) PowerPoint can be incredibly effective. So what is it that gives the program such a bad reputation? 

Here are some of the mistakes I’ve seen in slide decks I’ve recently been working through:

  • Distracting transitions and animations. Slides that dissolve and text that flies in from one side of the screen move attention away from what you’re saying and on to how you’re saying it. Most transitions and animations are gimmicky and unnecessary. 
  • Too much information on one slide. A slide is no different to a paragraph or a section of copy. It should be long enough to convey the essentials, but not so long it loses the audience. If it’s too long, you’re probably trying to cover too much ground, so split it into two slides – or even more.
  • Not tailored to the audience. One size doesn’t fit all when it comes to slide decks or any other copy. Maybe you need a sales deck, a marketing deck, a partner deck and lots of other variations on the theme. And you know what? If you’re presenting live, you don’t need a whole slew of decks. You can simply create custom shows within the same deck.
  • All or nothing. This is related to the last point, but is slightly different. When you’re doing a presentation, you often want to react in real time to the audience, based on their input. So you may not want to go sequentially through from slide 1 to 100 (and you really shouldn’t have 100 slides, by the way) but branch off at slide 10 depending on your audience. Branching is really easy, and saves your audience sitting through endless slides that aren’t relevant. 
  • Written for the writer, not the reader. This is a basic mistake that applies to all copywriting.  If you turn the tables and ask yourself whether you’d read what you’re writing if it were somebody else’s work, you might be in for a shock. Most slide decks are too long and too heavy on detail. So flip it round, and you’ll soon see where the problem is.  
  • Not tailored to the medium. Some decks are used for live presentations and others are emailed as an attachment or downloaded. So which is yours? They serve two purposes and need different levels of detail: a live presenter can always fill in the gaps and add more detail, but an emailed/downloaded deck should be free-standing. 
  • Cobbled together and hard to change. Somebody recently asked me to edit a slide deck, and when I looked at it, I realised to my horror that they didn’t know how to use the software properly. Now I’m no saint, but in a former life, I was a bit of a PowerPoint whizz. And you know what? Slide Layout is your friend, and Slide Masters will watch your back when you need it most. You’ll be able to edit more easily, move text around quickly, and have slides that are consistent and easy to read. As with most things, you need to take the time to save time. Which means reading the manual (ouch).

Remember, your slide decks are just as much part of your marketing collateral as your website, brochures, blog or tweets. Each and every slide sends out a message: too long (we don’t respect your time), too complicated (we don’t make things easy), too gimmicky (we focus on what’s not important), too detailed (we don’t cut to the chase).

So what message are yours sending out?