How to Improve Your PowerPoint Presentations

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MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. - It may be the most famous slide show of all time. "An Inconvenient Truth," the movie staring environmental activist and former Vice President Al Gore, is at its heart a slide show, hardly the format for a box office hit. The movie's popularity was not the only surprise, it's also generated $23 million in DVD sales and 1.8 million DVDs sold.

So how did a slide show garner millions of viewers? Duarte Design provided some of the answers in an event at its headquarters titled "Think Outside the Slide." Gore had worked with Duarte years before the film idea came out to develop a presentation on the dangers of global warming.

Gore's shown the resulting PowerPoint slide show more than 1,800 times; it's also reportedly been delivered some 30,000 times worldwide by volunteers in the environmental movement.

Gore initially came to Duarte with a standard presentation using a slide carousel and 35mm slides from the 1970s, recalled company founder Nancy Duarte. "We scanned a lot of them and updated the presentation with others," Duarte told InternetNews.com. "Now it's been translated to multiple languages and he's found additional images to add in that are relevant to the region where he speaks."

As for the movie, "We never imagined it would be made into a movie," Duarte recalled in her presentation. "Who would see a movie about a slide show?" She credits Gore's public appearances for planting the seeds that led to interest in the movie as well as his passion.

And passion can be a key to any presentation. "You need to be comfortable on stage, passionate and vulnerable," said Duarte.

Michael Moon, Duarte's creative director of content, said a great presentation is all about telling a great story. "Clients get nervous when we say 'tell a story' because they think we're talking about fiction, but story-telling dates back to the early cave paintings."

He counsels clients to start by telling their story, the presentation, in their own words. "People think they won't remember everything so they use PowerPoint slides like a TelePrompTer," he said.

It's all about you

Rick Altman, author of "Why Most PowerPoint Presentations Suck and How You Can Make Them Better," agrees the popular presentation package is often misused.

"People will speak to slides as a safety net," Altman told InternetNews.com. "And it's often the case they'll put too much text on the screen. It then becomes extremely difficult not to read it all while the audience becomes drones. You have to remember you are the presentation, not your slide deck. Your ideas come first and the slides support those ideas."

A common problem, Moon said, is that people often use PowerPoint to structure a 'safe' presentation. For example, a typical business presentation starts with something about the company, its history, its location, a vision statement, something about its value proposition "and if you're lucky, a call to action," said Moon.

"Inspire your audience, persuade and inform them," he added.

One example was a Duarte client that wanted to convey the benefits of open source - typically a fairly technical undertaking. Duarte helped develop a presentation that used slides of dinosaurs and other creations built using parts from a Lego set designed for making pirate ships. The point was to show how open source offers more flexibility than traditional solutions that are more rigidly structured.

Doug Neff, content developer at Duarte, said presentations should be "an experience" for the audience and a value to have you, the presenter, there.

"Would you go to a Madonna concert without Madonna, or a Steve Jobs keynote without Steve Jobs?" Neff asked rhetorically. He said slides should be merely a point of reference to underscore or embellish the message the presenter is making. If there's no reason for you to give the presentation, "just e-mail the information," he said.

This article was first published on InternetNews.com. To read the full article, click here.

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