Speed PowerPointing: Honing Our PowerPoint Presentation Skills

Trainers and other presenters have a knack for creating interesting challenges to improve their skills and effectiveness—to the benefit of all they serve. We’ve seen Pecha Kucha, Lightning Talks, and Ignite, those great formats for designing and delivering brief and creative presentations with a limited amount of time and a small number of PowerPoint slides. (One that remains particularly entertaining is colleague Peter Bromberg’s “What Do a Leaky Roof, a Greasy Spoon, a Bear Sighting , and a Man With a Tortoise in His Pants All Have in Common?”, and if the title doesn’t send you racing off to see it—again—maybe we should break this off right now.)

We’ve also seen the spread of Battledecks, a tongue-in-cheek macho challenge during which presenters compete against each other in front of an audience to see who can most creatively and effectively—with little advance preparation other than being given the topic to be addressed—string together the most compelling and cohesive presentation possible from sets of unrelated and oftentimes poorly matched images they are not allowed to view in advance.

And now, through the unexpected challenges of the workplace, we might be on the verge of yet another game to hone our skills: Speed PowerPointing.

Speed PowerPointing is what we do when someone asks us to prepare a short PowerPoint presentation 35 minutes before we are expected to meet with colleagues about a new proposal we are advancing. (As we codify this game, let’s set a ground rule of completing a PowerPoint deck of no more than 10 slides in one hour or less). We do not get extra credit or time for whining; any time we spend objecting is deducted from the 35 to 60 minutes we have been allotted. (Yes, this is tough, but Speed PowerPointing, like Battledecks, is not for the faint of heart.)

To up the ante, let’s agree that the final presentation cannot be comprised of what was initially requested in this case: simply transferring text from an existing document, formatting it into a series of one-line bullet points, and slapping a title slide onto it so we end up reading (or, worse yet, having our audience read) the words from the slides or printouts of the slides.

Prize-winning Speed PowerPointing must effectively and engagingly produce whatever results we are seeking; be weighted toward imagery interwoven with text—the less text, the better; and draw from the narrative flow of a Beyond Bullet Points presentation. (I suspect that at least a few trainer-presenters already are beginning to envision their own first Speed PowerPointing decks; if you’re rising to the challenge, you need to start your timer running. Now.)

What drove my first Speed PowerPointing effort was the aforementioned meeting, which was called to discuss a solution to our problem of tracking and making an ever-increasing volume of training documents available to an audience spread over a large geographic area and connected more by basic online resources than by any significant amount of face-to-face contact. The resources for the PowerPoint presentation were the one-page text proposal I had prepared for the 30-minute discussion; existing PowerPoint presentation templates I had previously developed to be consistent with the organization’s extremely detailed branding requirements, including logos, typefaces, and style sheets; online sources of images and graphics—I turned to Flickr for mine; and a desire to combine humor and creativity to be entertaining and persuasive.

The result, for my colleagues and for me, was a six-slide presentation that led to adoption of the proposal.

Our final slide deck—which I’m not reproducing here because there was some concern about making an in-house presentation available to a wider audience—started with a simple title slide addressing the issue of managing an explosive amount of documentation: “Where Did You Say You Put That? (A Proposed Marketing & Learning Document Library).”

All slides, in keeping with this company’s style, had white backgrounds, headlines in light blue type, the company logo in the lower left-hand corner as a footer, and the company name in the lower right-hand corner as part of that same footer. The bulleted text was a sans serif type in black to provide a contrast with the blue headlines.

Each of the subsequent slides addressed an aspect of the problem or proposed solution; included plenty of white space; bowed to the group’s insistence that some text in bullet-point form be inserted onto the slide (rather than having that information included in the speaker notes section of the slide presentation and presented orally); and included an appropriately eye-catching image that generally took up a third or more of the space and moved the narrative of the presentation forward rather than simply serving as a space-filler or repeating what was already being said, face-to-face, to those attending the meeting.

A slide addressing the challenges the company was facing in searching for documents it couldn’t find included the headline “goals: accessible & searchable” and a rescue-dog image that brought smiles to attendees’ faces. A slide addressing the too-much-information problem the company was facing included the headline “the online library: sifting through information” and an image that suggested all the ugliness of information overload. A slide outlining how the proposed online system should be tested included the headline “objectives: it’s all about testing” and an image of a test situation that resonated with everyone present. The final slide had the header “questions and comments” above a playful image that took advantage of the simple white background the company favors in its presentations.

One other tip: given the limited amount of time we have under the evolving rules of Speed Networking, it proves to be very effective to move the headlines and text onto slides first, seek appropriate images to complement the text next, then use PowerPoint’s slide sorter view near the end of the process to scan, on one screen, the entire presentation to catch and resolve visual inconsistencies.

And if it’s not obvious, let me be direct: I’d love to hear from anyone who effectively uses Speed PowerPointing to meet the presentation challenges we all face in a high-pressure world built on the idea that everything should have already been finished. At least five minutes ago.

Any

(image from photostream on Flicker)

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