“Basic Principles of PowerPoint”

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While reading The Secret Language of Leadership by Stephen Denning for our book report project, I came across a section on what Denning called the “basics” of PowerPoint. Given our recent emphasis in class on how best to utilize PowerPoint, I thought it might be interesting to share what Denning recommends, versus how we have used PowerPoint throughout our academic careers.

As such, I start with a question for everyone: how have you used PowerPoint in the past? Or similar software, like Prezi? I’ve typically used it for class presentations, all the way from junior high to college, and occassionally for work-related projects in the Honors College office downtown. I’ve usually overloaded slides with text, or tried to alternate between text and pictures, so I was curious how Denning believed my PowerPoint style fit in with my leadership style, and what my PowerPoints were conveying about my intended message.

 The general idea behind his book, The Secret Language of Leadership, is to analyze how storytelling can enable better leadership and audience engagement. For the sake of space, I’ll only list a couple of the principles he outlines on his site, but I encourage everyone to look at it. It made me think twice about how something as simple as slide color can change my message!

  • “Simplify! Simplify! Simplify!” I’ve always struggled with simplifying, and Denning reminds us of the mantra “less is more.” Slides that try to include everything you know about a topic are overwhelming and far too complex for an audience to digest quickly.
  • “Add striking, relevant images.” I think we all did a great job of this this week after discussing it with Dr. Bill last week. Denning says that the image shouldn’t be general or vague, but rather should fit your message and enhance it. He adds that “every drop of ink on the slide needs to be justified.” An interesting thought, and maybe I should ask myself: can I justify the use of this slide, this image, and this word choice?
  • “Add color to clarify the meaning.” The background should be neutral enough that your chosen text colors can pop out and emphasize your key points. Interestingly, Denning suggests using textures and gradients to engage the audience, rather than sticking to flat colors that will make your content seem like a part of the background.

These are just a few of Denning’s points, but three of the ones that I feel I need to work on the most. What do you feel are your PowerPoint strengths or weaknesses? Do you think Denning is right in suggesting that content is best presented in short form and/or story form?


2 Comments on ““Basic Principles of PowerPoint””

  1. These are great tips! I bookmarked the website so I can use it for future PowerPoints/Prezis. I struggle with a lot of these things, especially simplification — I always want to fit everything I can into each slide, and I often forget that less is usually more. I like the point you made, too, about asking yourself if you can justify the slide, image and word choice. Just like the speech it goes with, every slide in the presentation should be deliberately planned and clearly executed, with nothing thrown in just for the sake of filing space.

  2. Caroline,

    Great post! There are a lot of other useful presentation books like “Presentation Zen” that can be helpful when constructiong PowerPoints. I think it is interesting that your book on leadership touches on this point. It is very important that leaders know and understand how to give presentations in front of audiences of all sizes.

    Also as a great resource, there are a lot of presentations/literature on Steve Jobs presentation style. Those resources focus mostly on the aspect of preparation and storytelling.


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