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This is the first in a series of occasional posts by Mike Parkinson discussing how you can use PowerPoint in different industries and for diverse audiences. Mike is an internationally recognized visual communication expert and multi-published author, and he operates BizGraphics On Demand (editable PowerPoint graphics for download).
Love it or hate it, PowerPoint is everywhere and is changing how we communicate. It's one of the few software packages with a diverse graphic capability that is easy to learn. Business professionals, many of whom have no design background, are making PowerPoint their visual forum to communicate their solutions to potential clients.
So, why are more professionals using visual communication -- and PowerPoint -- to reach their audiences?
Good presenters use PowerPoint to simplify, prioritize, organize, and communicate information, via two important steps of effective communication. They provide the foundation for creating and using visuals in PowerPoint.
I recently asked Rick Altman, author of Why Most PowerPoint Presentations Suck and How You Can Make Them Better, about a common mistake presenters make when designing their presentations. He replied simply, "Too much crap."
And Altman is completely right. Many times, presenters believe the adage that more is better. Perhaps too much is a good thing when enjoying a piece of homemade apple pie; however, in visual communication, the opposite is true. If your audience is too distracted with your vibrant color scheme, opposing graphic styles, and long bulleted lists, then they will miss your message.Here is a slide from a sales presentation that compares televisions. At first glance, can you tell which television is better?
By setting the information on top of each other with bars comparing life expectancy, quality, and cost, you can see the difference, which wouldn't be as compelling if I had just listed the numbers. I also placed a trophy as an icon for "best in class" and used a checklist to summarize the findings of the presenter's product to further highlight the better television.
Connie Malamed, author of Visual Language For Designers: Principles For Creating Graphics That People Understand, states that researchers think we can only process around four bits of visual information at one time. Clean, clear, and easy-to-understand graphics create a visual hierarchy and allow viewers to focus on the most important information. A pyramid graphic, like the one below, is a great visual to use for hierarchy. In the graphic, training provides the foundation for the other steps that lead to a "win" for the organization.
PowerPoint gives you the right tools to turn slides of text and graphic clutter into clear visuals to create visual hierarchy. It includes many easy-to-use tools (SmartArt graphics used to create the pyramid graphic shown above, theme colors, charts, shapes, custom animation, etc.) to help you generate effective graphics. You can quickly insert clip art, photographs, and template artwork into your presentation to add impact to your message and help audiences remember your company, your solution.
Still wondering how distilling your information into simple visuals can help you? Consider the following research when creating your next PowerPoint presentation. Using graphics in presentation, educational, and marketing materials
Besides making your solution more memorable to your audience, another byproduct of a clear visual-which Malamed uncovered in her research-is that the easier it is for your audience to processes your information, the more positively they feel about it.
Sadly, most people shy away from graphics or choose the wrong graphic due to time constraints, lack of resources, or inexperience. Use the following Graphics Cheat Sheet (click the image to go to a larger, PDF version) to choose the best graphic for your next presentation and get graphic ideas from BizGraphics On Demand (editable PowerPoint graphics):
PowerPoint helps distill information into the most salient points, thereby connecting content to our audience's goals that which they care most about. Great communicators know this leads to a critical second step affecting emotions. Independent research shows that people care if the information shared can benefit them. Legendary philosopher Harry Overstreet wrote in Influencing Human Behavior, "Action springs out of what we fundamentally desire." When we show how we can help our audience, they become cognitively and emotionally invested in the presentation. Ultimately, it is the emotional element that carries the greatest weight. Emotions are a driver in every decision.
But how does PowerPoint help you affect the emotions of your audience and motivate them to choose your solution? As we discussed, using effective visuals that connect features to benefits even when dealing with complex or dry content will help you achieve your goals. The slide below simplifies a complex solution (software and marketing tools working together) and ties it to a direct benefit to the target audience (faster distribution to satisfied customers).
I also found the personal touch to be just as important and PowerPoint allows you to do just that.
Altman told me another secret to effective PowerPoint presentations: "People come to a room to hear what you have to say." Many presenters forget that they are a major component of the presentation. Their ideas and words are more important than even the slides. PowerPoint, when used correctly, aids and empowers the presenter. When used incorrectly, the presenter reduces the benefits that PowerPoint offers.
Understand and embrace PowerPoint's tools. Apply best design and presentation practices from industry experts. Then you, too, can evolve the world around you. Powerful presentations convey the "point" of your message and affect your audience's emotions and, ultimately, their decision to use your solution or product or buy into your idea.
-- Mike Parkinson
Thanks for this post. I especially like the statistics that you have given in Step 1.
@Kshitija - Very glad you like it, and many thanks for writing in.
Like many people say, it's not the tool, it's how the presenter uses the tool. I like to think of PowerPoint as a canvas and create presentations that are more visual than textual. I've seen the BizGraphics referred to here and they provide an effective way to explain concepts rather than using text alone.
PowerPoint used to be the bane of my existence, now, it's a tremendous help in presenting to clients in a variety of fields. The more engaging the PP and the talk, the more interaction we end up with during our sessions.
Well said Mike. As we've discused many times and as Mr. Altman points out, it's both the grpahics and the words that, working together, provide the greatest impact.
Keep up the great work with Biz Graphics!
Perhaps the most important piece of advice in this fine article: the value of reaching your audience at a level deeper than the intellectual. People don't make decisions based on what they think; they make them based on what they feel. They have to feel the weight of your message -- that's your promised land...