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#Entrepreneurship 10 rules of successful PowerPoint

Presentations are a daily struggle for many of us. Whether you are a student, a teacher, an entrepreneur, a researcher, or anyone else, there is a good chance you have to present something quite often. We are often provided with a computer, projector, a pointer (not always), and an audience who wants to be entertained. How you speak is another story, and will be covered in some other post. But what we always do for these presentations, is we prepare a PowerPoint to support our speech. I've seen many: at school, during my work with Hult Prize Foudnation, at conferences and meetings I attended. And sadly, hardly ever was the PPT what it should have been?

Why PowerPoint?

Whether you use windows or Mac, or just stay on your mobile devices, like phones or tablets, you do use powerpoint. The file format is supported by all the major devices. It is a standard presentation format nowadays. Many are trying to take over the position of leading visual presentation format, such as Prezi, Google Slides, or Apple's own software, but so far still unsuccessfully- PowerPoint is still the prevailing leader in the visual presentation. If you want to make sure your presentation will be successfully displayed wherever you go, you make a PPT.

I myself make PPTs for almost every time I speak, and that happens quite often. For me, it's more than just something that is required by a professor or expected by the audience when you speak. It is a support for your speech. It is a great tool to better showcase what you are talking about. It is also fun to make one. It provides you with and opportunity to give an outlet to your artistic soul, that's where everyone turns into a designer. It's fun, if you know how to use it. 

But how does a "good PPT" look? I am about to give you 10 golden rules of a successful PowerPoint, as according to my experience with making and seeing PPTs in various settings.
Please note that I focus on a "Hult Prize Pitch presentation", but the same rules apply to virtually any presentation.

Rule 1: KEEP IT SIMPLE

Most PowerPoint presentations are composed of slides with 16:9 resolution proportion.
That 16:9 is there for you to put in everything that you need behind you when you are speaking. Depending on the screen size, this may be a lot, or not so much, but usually, the bigger the screen, the further the audience, meaning, you still have that limited space behind you. DO NOT TRY TO CRAM A LOT OF STUFF IN THERE! The space is limited, and should serve to emphasize a point or two, a lot of objects, or few but very complicated, are going to make your PPT unreadable. 

It all boils down to one sentence: POWERPOINT IS THE BACKROUND FOR YOUR SPEECH. Remember that during your presentation, you are the star, the center of attention, not the screen behind you. The only thing your slides should be is the background for you and your speech. 




Therefore, keep it simple, use pictures, simple graphs, infographics. If you make it complicated, noone will even bother to read it. And seriously, there is nothing wrong with blank space, don't feel obliged to cram in stuff just to fill in space.

So why put all that effort into a super advanced PPT if it will just be ignored? The worst thing that can happen is that our audience will ignore you and just stare at your PPT. If that's so, why not just email them the PPT file?

Rule 2: LIMIT BULLETPOINTS AND TEXT

There is nothing as visually unattractive as a long text. Don't believe me? Open any textbook and tell me if the pages that are just filled in with text are attractive. You won't probably even stop there. You'll go for the pages with pictures and graphs. Maybe, if you're more curious, you'll look for lists and bulletpoints. But if the whole page is full of points, or the points are actually just a plain text divided into points, that loses the whole point.

Plain text on your slide once again takes attention away from you. Your audience will be reading your slides (if they are really interested in the topic. If not, they'll probably be checking facebook by then) instead of listening to what you have to say. 
Which side looks more interesting: left, or right?
I read in some research that there should not be more than 6 objects per slide, otherwise the viewer won't receive all the conveyed information. The rule of 6 is a great way to check if you put too much in there.


What are objects? An object can be a bulletpoint, logo in the corner, icon, picture, etc. In the slide you see above, there are 3 simple objects, and one complex- Black square, number six, Hult Prize logo, and a sentence (that sentence could definitely be just "Max objects" to fulfill the "limit the text" goal).

There is nothing wrong with bulletpoints, as long as you keep them being bulletpoints, not paragraphs. And remember, if there are no more than 6. Therefore:

  • Do
  • This
  • With
  • Your
  • Slide
instead of 
  • Excessive bulletpoint number is going to make your presentation messy and unreadable
  • It is also about the length of each point, not solely about the number
  • Try to use words, numbers, figures, try to avoid sentences or longer passages
  • Transform sentences into quick "bullets", kill them with the meaning, not the length. 
One time, for a class, I had an assignment about African- American citizens with some classmates. I saw one make a slide like this:

See, this is so terrible, I guarantee 99% of you won't bother to read it. Not to mention the hyperlinks and notations...
I quickly transformed the slide into this: 
It is better, isn't it?
But I wish I did this: 
And even better
As you can see, the less text, the better. Now, If you look at the last one, you'll go "but look how many objects are there!" yeah, but that photo is a background. I do not need my audience to receive this information. All they need to see here, is that those are Afro Americans and that they constitute 13% of American Society. It does convey that, doesn't it?

Rule 3: LIMIT ANIMATIONS AND OTHER UNNECESSARY DISTRACTIONS

The more is going on on the slide, the less clear it will be, and the more watered down is your message. If something can be taken out, take it out. Especially animations.

In high school, we all added a ton of animations to our PowerPoint, it made the presentations so cool, everything was moving. GIFs even, sometimes! And it was okay... because we were in high school. If you want adult looking presentation, take out the movement. Some animations play a role. you can add a line under something you want to emphasize, you can circle something, photos can change. But make the animation as simple as possible. The only acceptable one in PowerPoint, is "Appear" and "Disappear". Others are abundant and look childish.

What you definitely do not need, is animations between slides. That is so unnecessary and distracting. Some of us love Prezi for how the transitions go. And Prezi is okay, if it's a standalone presentation, not speech support. If you support your speech with slides, no animations.

Rule 4: USE HIGH QUALITY PHOTOS.

You put your presentations on big screens quite often. You do not want everyone to see the pixels on the graphic. When I do presentations, the photos I download and use are at least 1024 resolution. Smaller, pixels show. Bigger, a little heavy. 

But high quality photos do not only mean the high resolution. It also means using appropriate photos and graphics that suit the atmosphere of your presentation. Use photos that are in good taste, with well-balanced light, color saturation, with good perspective, centralized... you get the idea. 

Remember the Afro- American presentation and the slide? Well, what if I did this there? 

That graphic is not appropriate for use in academic setting. The real Obama's photo was much better. But the graduating crowd is still much better. Why? It emphasizes exactly what I want to emphasize. It has a great perspective. The colors suit the navy blue theme of the presentation. The attention of the viewers is focused on the man in the middle, an Afro American gentlemen graduating from collage. And next to him, a whole crowd of people like him. Looks like they could represent the 13% of society, doesn't it?

Rule 5: HAVE A VISUAL THEME, BUT AVOID THE STOCK THEMES

You want your presentation to look consistent. The easiest way to achieve that is to have a nice theme, a repeating pattern of colors and shapes throughout the whole presentation. 

The best themes are self made- they are tailored to your needs. You control the colors completely, you give it the atmosphere you want, you choose the right proportions for the content. But that takes time. 

The time issue is what often pushes us for the easy option of the PowerPoint theme. However, the themes that PowerPoint provides in stock are not that good. They are truly cool, if you're in high school. Brick wall and wooden stage themes, I'm looking at you. 

But you are not limited to stock themes. You can always look for free templates online. There are some nice ones out there, it may just require a bit of searching. 

Some websites where you can find nice templates: 

Actually, Google Slides provide nice templates and layouts too, you can also try making your presentation there. 

Rule 6: RIGHT CHART FOR RIGHT STUFF.

We all know charts are integral part of academic and business presentations. However, we need to know your graphs, and what each type is good for. Here are few types of charts and their uses: 


Also AVOID TABLES! But if you make a table, make it as clear and clear as possible. 
Right and left are the same tables, except we do not get a headache from the right one
However, infographics are the best. The often can convey exact same message as the chart or table, but look so much more attractive. 
Going back to the Afro American presentation...

Rule 7: COLORS

Different colors send different messages. The right choice of a palette for your presentation can do a very good job in conveying your message. If you want the audience to feel sad for a bit, make the slide gray scale, dark, no vivid colors. If you want to talk about danger, use a lot of red. If you want to incite hope or convey how natural something is, use green. If you want the audience to trust you, go for blue. Do a bit of research on colors if you'd like to master your presentation. 



First thing you have to think about when choosing colors in your presentation, think about visibility. You want your content to be visible on the slide. If you do not want it see, just don't put it there.


Experiment with the colors, see what looks good. Quite often you'll want to use contrasting colors, like combinations of black and white or navy blue and bright red etc.

When it comes to background colors, there are also few things you should take into consideration. 

We often wonder what colors should be in the back and which in the front. The general rule is that cold-colored objects seem further away from us, create visual distance. For warm colors, it is opposite, they make us feel like whatever is warm-colored is closer to us. Therefore, colors like blue, white, green, or gray would be good colors for background. But for the content, use black, dark gray, brown, red, scarlet, orange, yellow. After all, you want the content to seem "in front of" the background.


You also want your content to be noticed, not background. Therefore, make the color of the background calm, a pastel color, not bright- we do not want audience to be getting a headache. 


Rule 8: BE SMART ABOUT YOUR FONTS

This is a point I feel really strong about-fonts. And it's a point that doesn't require much discussion. In general, use the good, "normal", mature, readable fonts, and avoid all this weird stuff and stylized fonts. COMIC SANS IS UNACCEPTABLE! In general, you'll want visibility, readability, and general good vibe the fonts give. We want to look like adults, don't we?

 Rule 9: USE VIDEO

A video in your presentation is not a bad idea. Especially for longer presentations. The video can serve various reasons. First of all, they can visualize what you're talking about. Imagine you are making a presentation about wildfires in South America. After a bit of talking, why not how a video of an actual wildfire? Give a proof to what you just said.

Videos area also more attractive than a speech. After a bit, slides and your voice will get a bit monotonic for your listeners. And it's not your fault, not entirely. Nowadays, we are bombarded by high-intensity entertainment, and are used to rather short forms of communications. The more different parts of your presentation (truly varying in form), the more engaged your audience will be. 

Videos are also a very good thing in a presentation for another reason- they give the speaker a little break. Usually, when I do the workshop that this post is based on, by the Rule 9 I have already spoken for around half an hour. The throat becomes a bit dry by then, the voice cords may need a little break (since a microphone is not always available), and you may just want to rest a bit, check your notes for the next parts, etc. It's a good tool for a break. 

One last thing, you can "invite other speakers" to support you. Not literally, of course. When I go talk about Hult Prize and Social Entrepreneurship, I use videos of successful social entrepreneurs or authorities in the field near the end of the presentation, to give the audience a feeling of "yeah, that's probably right" about what I've just presented. Why is that important? Few times, I have presented at top Taiwanese universities, like NTU and NCCU. These two are particularly special experiences. I'm pretty sure, more than once, I've been the youngest person in the room. If I, a current bachelor's student, go and talk to a room full of older than me GMBA students from the best university in the country, it is important to prove my credibility by having these big names and authorities support me. Even though he may not realize this, Ahmad Ashkar, the CEO of Hult Prize Foundation had my back on numerous occasions. 

Rule 10: TREAT YOUR POWERPOINT AS A WHOLE

You want consistency in your presentation. Remember, it is not 20 slides, it is 1 presentation. Make it look like that. Spend time in layout viewer, go through it few times, see what goes well after what, if the presentation outline is logical, if fonts and colors are consistent etc.

For typical Hult Prize pitch, as well as in general business pitch, a 4-point layout is the most accepted form:
  1. Problem Statement (Why?)
  2. Solution (What?)
  3. Business Model (How?)
  4. Implications (So what?)
 

I was finishing up this post while watching few presentations in class, and must tell you, these presenters should see this post before. I am hoping these tips will come useful and they will improve the attractiveness of your presentation.

Let me know what you think! Do you disagree with something? What are your experiences with the presentation?

Cheers,
Szymon

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