by David Woods

While I’m not among those, such as that august journal The Lancet, who believe that PowerPoint corrupts and absolute PowerPoint corrupts absolutely, I do think that far too many presentations using that technique actually misuse it – and abuse audiences in the process.

The Lancet went as far as to invite its readers “to imagine a world with almost no pronouns or punctuation. A world where any complex thought has to be broken down into seven-word chunks … and where it’s hard to accommodate full English sentences so that meaning may be obscured.”

In his wonderfully capricious website, Edward Tufte goes a step further by rendering the Gettysburg Address, one of the most graceful pieces of expository prose in the English language, in PowerPoint with depressingly Bowdlerian results.

According to Andy Goodman, author of Why Bad Presentations Happen to Good Causes, “More and more presentations include meaningless numbers, acronyms that nobody recognises, and unintelligible sentence fragments.” Not only that, but I have witnessed myriad occasions when speakers freeze at the lectern when their technology refuses to function.

But it doesn’t have to be like that. Here are some pointers for using PowerPoint powerfully:

  • Put only enough information on each graphic to clarify one major idea;
  • Make sure that information is clearly discernible in the back row of your conference room;
  • Use graphics only where they help you to explain your point;
  • Avoid using tables and graphs from published articles as they don’t usually lend themselves to PowerPoint;
  • Make sure that the data are accurate, legible, comprehensible, interesting, and memorable;
  • Keep it simple; some of the graphics I’ve seen look like train timetables;
  • Give the audience time to absorb what’s on the graphic presentation;
  • Don’t simply read from the graphic; it should serve as a trigger for your talking points; and
  • Finally, do a dry run, to see that everything’s audible, visible, and meaningful.