Those of you who remember working with slideshows and overhead projectors probably agree that Power Point Presentations (PPT) are quite an improvement. They’re easy to make even with a minimum of computer skills; the technical possibilities are endless; and it all fits on a memory stick or even in an email attachment.
But… Who hasn’t attended a conference with PPTs that just went on and on, hundreds of pictures tumbling over each other thanks to the use of every animation feature in the program? Or worse even, a PPT existing of text only, often so big that it falls of the screen, read out loud by the speaker?
A PPT can be an incredible powerful tool. It can lighten up your presentation; highlight the main points; and the combination of visuals with your spoken presentation make it easier to process and remember. Just make sure your PPT doesn’t undermine your message by presenting a badly composed collection of random text and images. Here a few tips:
1. It’s a visual AID!
Unless your images are the subject of your presentation (such as a presentation about Religious Paintings in the Middle Ages), realize that your PPT is supposed to support your presentation, not to overwhelm or repeat it. Use a limited amount of good images that illustrate your words, or better, give additional visual value or information, rather than a downpour of pictures you happened to have anyway. Try not to be patronizing with your images (or text): if you write about you’re a water project, use a picture of the actual project rather than one of just a faucet. We all know what a faucet looks like. Avoid repetition and redundancy.
As for text, use only a few keywords that link your spoken text to the images and that help the audience to keep track of the main points. Realize that if you put text in a PPT, people will read it. And if they read, they won’t listen to what you have to say.
2. Quality over quantity
A picture can tell a thousand words. That’s great, that’s why we use visuals in the first place. However, a bad picture also tells a thousand words! There is no need to use professional photos only, just make sure the image is to the point, in focus and of a reasonable resolution. Images taken from the internet are often too grainy to put in a PPT and are often subject to copyright (more about that in the next paragraph). For PPTs, “less is more” is usually a good guideline to keep. You don’t want to visually over-impose your audience. Quality over quantity, always!
3. Respect author’s rights
It’s so easy these days to find a picture of just anything through Google or Bing, but be careful… It’s not only that these pictures might be subject to copyright (but who would find out anyway?), it is often obvious that the pictures are not originals and that might harm your own integrity. You might think that if you talk about building schools in the dessert, it might be fun to illustrate it with a picture of some random people laying bricks, but keep in mind that your audience will assume the photo is of your specific project. Besides, it often doesn’t look professional. Avoid misunderstandings: For the good of your own project’s transparency and reputation, use your own pictures only. (And if you use other people’s pictures, just be nice and ask permission and/or give credit if desired by writing their name in small letters on the picture).
Another something to keep in mind if you use pictures of people: make sure they’re dignified. If you wouldn’t like to be publicly pictured in a miserable position, half starved or sick, then don’t do that to others…
4. Don’t explain what you see
The whole idea of using images to illustrate your words is that they support what you say or put it in a context, so don’t explain what you see, that’s often redundant and patronizing. Unless you provide some additional information about the image, for example how difficult it was to take that specific picture, or under what special circumstances it was taken.
5. Keep it short and to the point
A PPT is not the same as a yearly report, a novel or a project proposal!!! Yet again, it is a visual aid to illustrate your words. So keep it short and to the point! Think out a scheme you’d like to use, for example:
- Introduction (geographical and cultural context)
- Explanation of the problem
- Solution to the problem
6. No tricks please!
It’s all too tempting to use all those great features provided by PPT: flying text blocks, flickering images, funky clipart, artsy transitions… But usually they just turn out to be annoying and delay the message you want to transmit. Not that a PPT can’t be artistic or fancy. Just keep a few ground rules in mind:
- If you use a template, pick one that fits your theme and that isn’t too overpowering. Pink roses while talking about violence in Honduras? Maybe not.
- It’s easy to make your own template, and often much nicer. For a background you can use a picture of your own, maybe editing it a bit in PPT or any other photo program. Just make sure there is enough contrast with the text (dark text on light, even background or the other way around). Once you’ve designed a template you like (background plus text blocks), just copy/paste the slide (in the left-hand panel) before adding text and images to the rest of the slides.
- Use (if any) the same slide and/or photo transitions throughout your whole presentation. It’s calmer than having different transitions and it avoids problems while going from one slide to the other.
- If you use colored text on a colored background, keep in mind that some combinations just don’t work. Green letters on red start “swimming” and besides, they are hard to read for people who are colorblind.
- If you use a lot of color, be aware that each color has its own meaning. Even people who know nothing about the psychology of colors tend to perceive bright red as aggressive, black as depressive or serious, yellow as happy and playful. Blues and greens are calm colors, whereas shades of terracotta and orange give a warmer impression. Use a color that underlines your theme.
In the first place, always use a font that is easy on the eyes and easy to read. If you use an uncommon font, be aware that if you use your presentation on somebody else’s computer, it might change the font and actually the whole design of your PPT. If you insist on using a specific font, save your text (in your PPT) as an image (GIF) and insert it. This way you won’t be able to change the text anymore, but neither can anybody else(‘s computer).
The same thing goes for features such as transitions: what works right on your own computer at home might do something altogether different on someone else’s computer.
8. Check you PTT before your presentation
It might sound like kicking in an open door, but please do check your PPT before you give your presentation! Just make sure it is lined up the way you want it and that you have all you need (pointer, remote control) at hand. Nothing is more unnerving than starting your presentation with a PPT that is at fault.
A PPT can easily look very professional. But not so if your spelling sucks. That’s unprofessional, unnecessary and it looks like you don’t care. PPT has a spell check function, but even better is to write out your text first in Word. Make sure you spell foreign names correctly too. That’s just being respectful. And if you make a bilingual PPT without speaking the language (very considerate at conferences with simultaneous translation), don’t bet all your horses on Google Translate, but ask some to look it over. Also, be consistent in your spelling. ‘Copán Ruinas’ is spelled with an accent on the ‘a’, although in English it is often written without. If you do so, make sure you do so throughout the whole document.
10. Contact info
Often a presentation ends with time for questions and answers, and usually your last slide stays on during that period. So use that slide to repeat the name of your presentation, your own name or company and contact info, to give your audience the chance to write it down.