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Fight the Power(point)!

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We've all been there: struggling to stay alert in a half-darkened room, listening to a voice at the front drone on and on while cluttered, confusing and sometimes illegible slides flash past on screen like the view out the window of a train speeding through an alternate universe populated solely by graphs and lengthy bulleted lists.
If you give PowerPoint presentations with any regularity, your fellow humans will enjoy - or endure - thousands of images of your work over the course of your career, according to IonE communications director Todd Reubold.

That's a lot of potential impact. Or a lot of wasted time if you don't get it right.

How can you make sure your talks work well? Reubold offers these top tips:

  • Start with a plan. Keep your audience members - and what you want them to take away from your talk - in mind. Use an organizing scheme so your material flows logically from beginning to end. If you tell a story with your slides, people will listen.
  • Pay attention to looks. When creating your slides, follow basic principles of good design. Enlist contrast, repetition, alignment and proximity to make images pleasing to the eye. Use high-quality, well-placed photos to reinforce your message.
  • Remember that simple is good.  Stick to one point per slide. Be stingy with words, graphs, data, etc. Limit yourself to just a few type fonts. Avoid clip art ad and comic sans.
  • Pursue confidence. Practice your presentation ahead of time. Arrive early for your presentation and mingle with your audience. These habits will calm your nerves and help you give your talk in a clear and confident manner.
  • Present with style. When you give your talk, speak with enthusiasm. Use a remote, and get out from behind the lectern. Describe, rather than read, your slides. Leave the room lights on and build in mini-breaks every 10 minutes or so - ask a question, do an exercise, show a video clip - to help your audience stay alert.
  • Wrap up well. Stay within your allotted time, and end slightly early if possible to allow for discussion. After the Q&A, restate your take-home message so your listeners leave with the most important points in mind.
Check out the slide show above for examples and additional ideas. Pay attention to others' talks, and incorporate lessons learned into your own. Your listeners will be grateful. And your messages will hit their mark - power(point)fully.

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  of the Institute on the Environment/University of Minnesota.

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