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More on using PowerPoint

I've previously given examples on how to use PowerPoint, and how not to use PowerPoint. Giving a good presentation shouldn't rely on your slides. The quality of your presentation content matters, not how pretty you made your slides.

It's also important not to overload your slides with too much information. The problem with information packed slides is that the audience is momentarily given lots of information but - having too little time to parse it - won't recall it later. And they won't be able to concentrate on your words either, because they'll be too busy reading.

This was demonstrated all too plainly in a presentation given last summer to Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the leader of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan. One slide meant to portray the complexity of American military strategy, but instead was a beautiful impediment to understanding. The New York Times has more.

Some choice quotes from the article:

  • "PowerPoint makes us stupid," Gen. James N. Mattis of the Marine Corps, the Joint Forces commander.
  • "It's dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control," Brig. Gen. H. R. McMaster (who banned PowerPoint presentations.)
  • "When we understand that slide, we'll have won the war," Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal.

For more about PowerPoint, 'information design' expert Edward Tufte posted a sample from his essay, PowerPoint Does Rocket Science--and Better Techniques for Technical Reports. Tufte cites a PowerPoint presentation given at NASA about the 2003 shuttle Columbia disaster. In this case, unstructured information overload blurred key points, and made it difficult for senior management to realize the presentation addressed life-threatening situations.

In my own presentations, I rely on only a few simple PowerPoint slides that address a single theme that I can speak to. The key is simple, so that my audience's attention stays focused on me and what I'm saying. My "wordiest" slides have only 3 bullets, so the audience's attention is diverted for only a moment, then back to me.

I was a special guest at Penguicon last year, talking about FreeDOS and other open source software. One presentation I gave only used 9 slides for a 1-hour talk (but I could have done it with 7.) That's about 6-7 minutes for each slide, which helped me and the audience stay focused on each topic.

You may one day need to give a presentation for others. Remember the general rules to give a truly outstanding presentation:

  1. Avoid distractions.
  2. Use slides that are visual, not wordy.
  3. Share your enthusiasm.
  4. Leave room to talk around the bullet points.