If You Only Listen to One PowerPoint Tip…

projectorThese days, many meeting rooms have built-in projectors and/or screens. Some even have built-in computers so the need to lug a laptop with you has essentially been eliminated. Let’s face it, a USB drive will fit even the largest of presentations and can fit on your keychain – plus it won’t hurt your back. But even though all this is there to make your life easy, it can also work against you. Unless you test your presentation on the exact equipment that you’ll be running it on, you’re running a huge risk.

The main reason for this is that there are a lot of traps that even experienced presenters fall into when using PowerPoint for presentations. This often happens at the worst possible time such as a presentation for an important client or your one chance to shine in front of the big boss. I’ve had it happen to me – and I’ll share that story as we talk about some of the problems. So here are the risks that you run by not testing your presentation ahead of time:

Your screen versus the projector:

PowerPoint has a lot of beautiful templates that look great on your computer screen – in fact, some people even use the program to create flyers because it’s so rich. The problem is that what you see on your widescreen high-resolution HD monitor is not necessarily what you’ll see on a clunky projector that’s ten years old. So that beautiful sunset background that looks great in 24-bit color on your monitor will look like a blur on most projectors. Ditto for that cool color scheme that you chose for your text. You’re best off using simply backgrounds (preferably light in color) with dark text for maximum contrast. Yes, it won’t look as pretty but at least they’ll be able to read it.

The case of the missing fonts:

If you’re using a different computer than the one that you created your presentation on, you run a whole bunch of compatibility risks. That cool font that the latest version of PowerPoint defaults to might not be installed on the computer your using to give your presentation. Not to mention, you may have used a newer version to create your presentation so it might not run at all.

I did this once but had the good sense to save my file in an older file format just in case. When it loaded up, I was all excited – until I noticed that the system lacked the font I used and defaulted to different font. Normally, a different font isn’t a big deal but in my case the new font was spaced differently which caused 75% of my slides to have text falling off the screen. I was lucky that I also saved it in Adobe PDF format which preserved my fonts. Of course, even with some work my presentation didn’t fill the screen, lost its transition effects and I essentially scrolled page by page through the document. But at least the audience was able to get the full benefit of the presentation.

How many horses you got in there?

The biggest annoyance when it comes to PowerPoint is by far the overuse of slide transitions. I normally don’t use transition effects, or if I do I stick to the basic ones that lay one slide over the next just to emphasis the fact that the slide is changing. But I once used an effect for a work presentation about ten years ago that clearly agitated my audience. I thought the effect, which displays your text letter by letter as if you’re using a typewriter, looked really cool on my fast development machine. It didn’t look so cool on the slow machine that I gave my presentation on so after two slides (and several comments from the audience), I removed all transitions from my presentation and restarted it. The same holds true for animation and video (especially if you’re connecting to an online source).

So if there’s one thing you do before you give your next PowerPoint presentation, test it out on the equipment you’ll be presenting on. If you can’t get to the equipment ahead of time, then here’s what I recommend:

  • Avoid fancy templates and stick to standard fonts such as Arial and Times New Roman.
  • Test it out on a projector so you can see how it differs from your screen.
  • If you can use your own equipment, do so. You’ll eliminate a lot of potential risks.
  • Save a copy of your presentation in each format of PowerPoint released in the last five years. Also save it in Adobe PDF format.

Just taking these few simple steps will protect you from a lot of headaches. Remember, giving a speech or presentation is already stressful enough as is.

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5 thoughts on “If You Only Listen to One PowerPoint Tip…

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  2. James Post author

    Hi Richard,

    That’s a very good point. I never really thought about it because I started using Powerpoint with projectors without remotes so I’m used to either advancing the slides myself or signaling someone else. But like Dana points out, when you’ve practiced with a remote and there isn’t one there when you’re giving your actual presentation, you’ve got a challenge.

    Thanks for sharing,

    James

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