We've all been there — sitting through computer presentations with endless screens of boring text. Of course, it is not the program that's the problem. It's the way the program is used. Here are some ways to avoid “Death by PowerPoint”:

  • Limit the number of words on each slide: Fifteen words maximum. Only a few words to emphasize an idea.

  • Use a bold, simple, and large font: Veranda and Arial (emboldened) are my favorites. Very legible. Minimum font size should be 18 point, but my average font size is 40 point, to allow for easy reading.

  • Use transitions wisely: You can always tell a new PowerPoint user who has just discovered slide transitions: Words are flying in from every direction — with more sound effects than a Star Wars movie. Keep in mind you are the show — not what's on the screen. Transitions distract from the message. I typically use dissolves, the least jarring transition. Judicious use of transitions can help an audience know where you are going rather than distract them.

  • Avoid stock templates: Stay away from the standard background templates that come with the program. Instead, use a custom template to make your presentation look different.

  • Choose a design template in which the words are easily distinguished from the background: Avoid busy backgrounds, or ones with hard-to-read fonts, or fonts with equal color density to the background.

  • Let the audience know where you are going: PowerPoint is great to help audiences know where you are in a program. List the agenda and key points, use topic headers on your slides, and include a conclusions slide. The more you help an audience know where you are, the more they will stay with you and learn.

  • Use a wireless advance mechanism: Do not be tethered to your computer. I use a very small, radio-frequency device from www.L3Sys.com that has just two buttons — forward and reverse — requires no special software, and has more than a 100-foot range. I never have to think about walking over to the computer or having someone else advance the slides. My concentration is where it should be — on the audience!

  • Use pictures and graphs: The old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words has never been truer than with computer presentations. Pictures add interest and humor, and they can show in a few seconds what it would take minutes to explain.

Corbin Ball, CMP, is a speaker, consultant, and writer focusing on events and meetings technology. With 20 years' experience running international citywide technology meetings, he now helps clients worldwide use technology to save time and improve productivity. He can be contacted at www.corbinball.com.