An Effective PowerPoint Presentation or a Boring Lecture?

The other day, I went to a series of PPT presentations given at Stanford University. The speakers had miles of titles, books, and awards to their names, so you would expect to be impressed by their presentations and presentation skills. In all fairness, most presentations were indeed very good, but one stood out, not because of its excellence, but because of the very bad PowerPoint slides that accompanied an otherwise good talk.

You know how in a lecture, you start counting how many times the lecturer says “um” in one sentence? Well after reading (!) the first slide of this presentation, I couldn’t help but focus on the writing on every slide that flashed in front of our eyes at a rapid speed.

There were no commas, no semi colons, but 12–15 lines of pure text per slide,which he read -word for word- with his back to the audience.
In addition some of the text didn’t immediately make sense, as in: “the test is does party as thought of by pundits and other analysts mean Clinton will get his policies through Congress?”
Grammar and vocabulary errors on the slides also detracted from his good delivery (overcome was “over come” and “these two phenomenon” appeared several times).

In complete contrast, 3 scientists gave a presentation about adult embryo versus fetal embryo research – a rather esoteric topic. They used only 10 slides, many with just one graphic per slide and only one explanation, but presented in a way that we, the lay audience, could follow him and understand. The difference was that the presenters didn’t use their PPT slides as a crutch, they spoke freely and succinctly and left us intellectually satisfied.

effective power point presentations

OK, what does all of this mean for us? What is the so what?  It means that for us to give a good presentation in this educated Silicon Valley environment, we need to be clear, to the point and concise – verbally and in writing.

We have to know what we want to say, give our audiences something intellectually interesting, and let them walk away feeling satisfied.

We have to speak in a language that all audiences not only understand, but also want to hear. Or, as Peggy Noonan (a major speech writer for major presidents) said in On Speaking Well, “good hard simple words with good hard clear meaning are good things to use when you speak.”

Presentations don’t need:

complicated language
lots of fancy diagrams, bar graphs or badly copied tables
every fancy theory listed that might fit to the thesis
high speed delivery.

Presentations do need careful proofreading, checking for English errors and overusing words. It pays to put yourself in the place of the attendees and look at the presentation from their perspective, so you know that when they leave, they are thinking of what you said, rather than remembering your bad slides. For further ideas on writing good presentations, please contact or read, for example, Flipboard which has many good articles that will tell you how to write presentations that work.
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