Effective Communication Skills - Using PowerPoint

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One of the most effective ways with which to get information across in meetings is to prepare a set of PowerPoint slides to use as a visual aid.

For some, the whole idea of having to create and then presenting such a slideshow is a completely daunting thought, but by following a few basic and simple guidelines it really needn't be. Once you have done it a few times it will become like water off a duck's back.

In this article we will focus on just six essential key steps taking you from first starting up PowerPoint, to being ready to stand up confidently in front of the audience to whom who will be presenting.

Step 1 - Choosing a Template

If you are lucky, your company provides you with a corporate template which you can (and possibly have to) use. In this case you should probably skip directly to Step 2.

If you are still here in Step 1, then let's assume that all you are starting with a blank canvas. Now there are a couple of different choices - either create a design for yourself, or use one that someone else has provided.

Here we will focus on the latter option, as there are so many already existing templates that you can use.

The best way to get started is to use one of the hundreds of free templates that Microsoft provide at with Office.com. These are of really great quality and I can highly recommend this. To use these just click on 'File/New' and navigate your way through the Office.com templates that are listed under 'PowerPoint Presentations & Slides'

Once you have downloaded the template you like, you will be able to modify it to suit your needs if necessary.

Step 2 - Plan the structure and create an outline

Now that you have chosen the design that you want to use, it is time to start thinking about what you want to have on your slides. My recommended way to begin is to switch to the 'Outline view' and type in titles and descriptions for each slide in an order that seems logical too you (you can always rearrange things later).

As an example let's imagine we have a 'widget machine' and it is broken. A logical structure for a very simple request for a decision, could be something like:-

* Background to the issue
* Options for resolving the issue
* Recommended option
* Request for decision

Now that you have your draft outline, make a draft of what are the points you want to make related each slide. While still in outline mode, change things around a little until you are happy what comes in which order and what is on which slide.

Step 3 - Think about the slide designs you will use - avoid bullet point lists on every slide. Find the right mix of text, tables, graphics and images.

Once you are happy with the outline that you have created in Step 2, it's time to start planning how the final versions of your slides will look. Now is as good a time as any to switch back to 'Slide view'.

Bear in mind - having bullet points on every single slide, although the easiest way to get the facts across is quite boring and will almost certainly lead to you reading through them verbatim in the presentation. Consider that not every word needs to appear on the slide - sentences can be shortened and in some cases just keywords is enough.

Use a mixture of slide designs to mix together text, graphs, diagrams and even photographs. When inserting slides using the 'New Slide' button, you can select from a range of different layouts, some with a single text box, some with multiple text boxes and some with space for tables and charts. You can also re-size and move the boxes just by dragging and dropping.

Step 4 - Use transitions and animations, but don't overdo them

Now, one of the worst presentations I ever saw consisted of about 20 slides each of which transitioned in a different way to the last, with some flying from left to right, some down to up and others appearing from a spiral in the centre. Some of the audience were really having to hold their chuckles in.

As for the slides themselves, each of them contained a single bullet point list, with each of the hundreds of bullet points appearing one by one as the presenter got to it, again in seemingly random directions.

While a little but of animation and transition on your slides is fine, but don't go crazy or you will annoy people.

* If you use slide transitions, consider making each one consistent (i.e. use the exact same transition between every slide.
* Limit the use of animations to where it really makes sense. A good example is when you are going through your list of options and want to keep the audience focused on the one you are currently talking about rather than reading ahead.

Step 5 - Make sure you don't have spelling mistakes or typos

Once you have finalised your slides and are happy with them, it is important to go through with a fine tooth comb and make sure any spelling mistakes or typos are corrected. Bad enough when you have a spelling mistake in an e-mail without either your or someone else spotting it and pointing it out to you when you are standing in front of your audience, especially if you are fighting with your nerves.

Step 6 - Run through your presentation in 'practice mode' before presenting for real

The final Step is to have a practice run through the entire presentation in advance of the read thing. If possible present the whole thing to a friendly and trusted colleague or family member.

There are numerous benefits in doing this, and the time is always well spent. A few examples that spring to mind are:

* It's another chance to spot and glaring typos that you didn't see in Step 5.
* You can check that it does really flow in a logical order and familiarise yourself with what's coming next.
* You can check the timing you need for each slide. This will help you to know when to speed up or to slow down when you are presenting for real and have a time constraint.
* You can ask for feedback and constructive criticism - how does it look, how does it come across, how could it be even better.

That's it. If you made it to this stage, well done! Now you can relax knowing that your slides are ready and look good. Having practised your presentation, you know that you are familiar with them and that you can now show up in the meeting, confident that you are prepared.

This article's coverage of the information is as complete as it can be today. But you should always leave open the possibility that future research could uncover new facts.