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What's The (Power)Point?

Pinnacle Performance Company  www.pinper.com   Volume 2 Issue 4

What's the (Power)Point?

Along with advances in technology come tools designed to make our lives easier, increase productivity and generally make what we are already doing more effective. The flip side to this phenomenon is that, if not used correctly, these same tools can actually do the opposite.

In the world of professional presentations, PowerPoint is king. First debuting in 1987 as a program called "Presenter," the version that revolutionized the workplace did not appear until ten years later. It has been a staple, for better or worse, of boardrooms, lecture halls and meetings ever since.

"Without a doubt, across continents, cultures, and businesses, one of the most misunderstood tools in the professional arsenal is PowerPoint," says Pinnacle co-founder, Gary Mills.

He is not alone in this belief. Hundreds of websites (www.beyondbulletpoints.com), books (Cutting Edge PowerPoint for Dummies) and, ironically, PowerPoint "decks" have been created to help the uninitiated master the slide-creating software. Catchphrases such as "PowerPoint Hell" and "PowerPoint Poisoning" are now a part of the professional vernacular. How can one tool be so embedded in professional culture, yet be so misunderstood? How can one avoid the common missteps that plague so many presentations?

"Microsoft will teach you how to use Word, but not how to be a writer," analogizes Roger Courville, author of The Virtual Presenter's Handbook. While his point is more directed toward webinars and other forms of virtual communication, the idea is applicable toward PowerPoint. A misunderstanding of the medium and how it should be used is the underlying culprit.

At some point since its inception, PowerPoint became more than a visual supplement. Ellen Finkelstein, author of 101 Advanced Techniques Every PowerPoint User Should Know, believes it started in academia.

"When PowerPoint emerged, professors used it as a substitute not only for what they had written on the blackboard (whiteboard, by that time), but for their notes. Now they didn't have to write on the board each class, and they didn't have to read from their notes. They could show the students more of their notes!"

Finkelstein makes the case that presenters today are only repeating what they have seen. Bad lectures in school and bad presentations in the boardroom beget more of the same. PowerPoint is oftentimes being used in ways for which it was never designed: as a substitution for documents and a catalogue of minutia.

How can one avoid PowerPoint pitfalls?

Embrace the Medium-PowerPoint is a visual tool, so use images instead of text whenever possible. The idea that A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words means your audience will absorb broader topics and concepts quicker, and it will prevent you from getting bogged down in unnecessary details.

Keep It Simple-Reduce the number of slides and the amount of text on the slides as much as possible. There is a difference between "Need-to-Know" and "Need-to-Show." The audience will spend more time listening and less time reading.

Be Aesthetically Sensible-Be conscious of colors, fonts, type sizes, backgrounds, etc. Remain stylistically consistent with how your slides appear. Oftentimes, colors and text size can change from computer to projector, so double check your technology.

For more information on this topic, Red Carpet encourages you to read the essays of Edward Tufte. Red Carpet also recommends The Wall Street Journal Guide to Information Graphics by Dona M. Wong for those that work with statistics, tables and charts on a regular basis.

By changing perspectives on Microsoft's workplace warhorse, hopefully we can change the presentation paradigm and administer the antidote to PowerPoint Poisoning.



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