Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Making Better Presentations with Powerpoint

There is something wrong with the way most presentations are given. This became more clear to me recently after seeing excellent presentations from Bob Seawright, David Blanchett, and Michael Finke. They are doing something that is quite different from the standard type of academic presentation I've been use to seeing for the past 13 years. But what is different?  To understand better what is going on, I read Garr Reynolds' Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery.

In this book, Garr Reynolds basically turns everything you thought you knew about giving a Powerpoint presentation on its head.

Bullet points... Don't need them

Text... a bit overrated

The fundamental idea is that presentation slides are not meant to serve as stand alone documents that can be read and understood separate from the presentation. They are meant to augment and add to what the presenter says. If you want to share more information with the audience, then prepare a separate document to distribute. Powerpoint is not a Word processor, and don't try to use it as one.

Actually, Garr Reynolds lives in Japan too, but over in Osaka. He notes that a lot of the aesthetic qualities of Japanese culture extend well to giving presentations. It is unfortunate that Japanese Powerpoint presentations are sometimes the worst offenders in spite of this. I don't know how many times I've seen slides with probably 500 words per slide in presentations from high-ranking people.

I'm going to try and do a better job with my presentations in the future. In this regard, I think a few key takeaways for me from this book include:

-plan your presentation out with pencil and paper before moving over to Powerpoint

 -remember that the audience is not as involved in your topic as you and so it is important to emphasize "What's my point? And why does it matter?"

-practice what you would do if you had to cut an hour presentation down to 30 minutes, or a 20 minute presentation down to 5 minutes. This helps you make your message clearer and tighter.

-keep the slides simple. Don't construct them as stand alone documents. Prepare something separate for that.

-prepare 3 components for your presentation: your slides, your notes, and your handout.  Then you don't feel so much need to include everything in the slides

-never distribute a printed version of your slides

-slides should be visual and provide support to your points. The verbal content comes from speaking

-prepare a story

-use of bullet points should be a rare exception

-try to replace text on slides with images that help make the point of what you will say

-empty space on the slide is okay

-always finish before your allotted time and never go over. Aim to use 90-95%.  Amen to this... academic presenters... the world will not end if you don't go 15 minutes over your time limit to explain every single robustness check

-try to avoid speaking from behind a podium and try to keep the lights on

Finally, I'm now preparing a presentation for my most recently finished research paper, "Choosing a Retirement Income Strategy: A New Evaluation Framework." It is going to take some time to get the kinks worked out, but to give an example about what the book intends, as well as to keep this entry anchored to retirement income, here are rough drafts for a few of the slides I've prepared: