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You’re Doing It Wrong: PowerPoint Rules You Should Be Following

For years now, people have been relying on PowerPoint to communicate ideas, sell products, facilitate meetings, and conferences. Many presenters, however, still fall short and end up with lousy, poorly designed slides that do nothing but torture their audience. Thankfully, there are experts in the field who have set the rules or standards for others to follow.

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After a quick search, we found two sets of the most popular PowerPoint rules that many people subscribe to. Both may not be all-encompassing but they are excellent guidelines, nonetheless.

Guy Kawasaki’s 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint

Guy Kawasaki is a venture capitalist, among other things. If we’re going to talk about quality and importance of simplicity in presentation design, he’s the go-to, well, Guy. He practically listens to hundreds of pitches all the time, making him knowledgeable of what works and doesn’t. For him, a PowerPoint presentation should:

  • Feature 10 slides or less
  • Last no more than 20 minutes
  • Contain font not smaller than 30pt

This rule is applicable to pitches and office meetings. And because most people cannot absorb more than 10 concepts in a single meeting, it is best that you limit your presentation to 10 slides. The 20-minute duration should give you enough time to host a Q and A discussion afterwards. A 30-point typeface will make information on a slide large enough to be readable without making it look too crowded.

Seth Godin’s Five Rules for Creating Amazing Presentations

Seth Godin is a man of many interests and as a public speaker, he’s no stranger to PowerPoint presentations. He even wrote an e-book about it.

If you want to create an amazing presentation, here are the points we have taken from the book:

  1. Use no more than six words on every slide (If you include too much text, the audience will simply read the slides ahead of you).
  2. Do not use cheesy images and look for professional stock photos instead.
  3. Avoid fancy transitions such as dissolves, spins, etc, as these can be distracting, making you seem less professional.
  4. Use sound effects, but not the built-in types. You may want to rip from CDs or use the “Proust effect.”
  5. Do not provide print collateral at the start of the meeting. You want your audience to focus on the presentation, not read ahead of you.

Great presentations can trigger the right emotions, inspire change, and move people. These two sets of rules can raise the level of your next presentation from boring to life-changing. You don’t need to choose between the two, though. Applying both of them is sure to produce excellent results. But whatever you do, here’s another rule for you to remember. This one’s from presentation expert Nancy Duarte:

Never deliver a presentation you would not want to sit through.

Now, if there’s One PowerPoint Rule to rule them all, that would be it.

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Improve Your Presentations with the Power of the Metaphor

The success of your presentation is determined by how well you can connect with your audience. If you’re able to capture their attention and engage them with your discussion, you’re on your way to a great outcome.

So how do you capture their imagination?

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For poets, authors, and songwriters, there’s always the metaphor. They equate certain ideas or concepts with images that people are already familiar with. Since these concepts are often abstract and difficult to explain, metaphors help them reach out in ways that others can easily understand and relate to. .

A quick example can be found in William Shakespeare’s famous passage from “As You Like It:”

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;

Instead of trying to endlessly explain the nature of life, he chose an image that his audience were already familiar with. Since they were already watching a stage play, the audience can easily see what he meant with his metaphor!

Your message should be as compelling as a dangling carrot. (Image Source)

While your presentations aren’t expected to be as poetic as any of Shakespeare’s works, they can definitely improve with the use of simple metaphors. While we often associate them with artistic expression, metaphors also play out in our daily conversations. Expressions like “our hard work went down the drain” call to mind images that are familiar and relatable.

Certain metaphors can also convey a more heightened sense of emotion because they’re described in a way that people can easily call to mind. Another example was brought up by presentation expert Nancy Duarte in an article for the Harvard Business Review. She writes, “we [incorporate metaphors] naturally in conversation—for instance, ‘The news hit her like a freight train.’ By comparing the situation to something people already know or can at least imagine, we convey its intensity and urgency.”

Most presentations often end up as a dump of data and information that are too difficult to understand. If you want to keep your audience engaged, you need to capture their attention with something that stands out to them. A recitation of facts and data can easily become boring. But if you can liken your new business model to a game of soccer, your audience will remain intrigued and interested. Like Shakespeare, try to explain a complex concept with the use of a metaphor. Turn the unfamiliar into something you know they encounter in their daily lives.

Moving past cliches: How to come up with a unique metaphor

Obviously, not all metaphors are created equal. Some have been used so much that they’ve become unoriginal. How many times have you heard love likened to a red rose? Or, to be a bit closer to the corporate world, a business goal to a bull’s-eye? If you really want to capture the imagination of your audience, you’ll need to come up with a metaphor that is unique. The most effective metaphors are particular and specific to what you’re describing. It calls on something that you know everyone has experienced or can easily imagine.

For Nancy Duarte, the best way to do that is through a brainstorming session.

Brainstorming is the most effective way to come up with the perfect metaphor. (Image Source)

The perfect metaphor won’t come to you immediately. As Nancy has written, the first things we often come up with are the cliches. Since these are associations we often see and make, they’re the ones that are usually top of mind. To push past them, you’ll need to allot some time for brainstorming.

Sit down away from your computer and start listing down everything that comes to mind. Start with the cliches and try to move to more original ideas. If you’re feeling stuck, just try to think of any word that you think is connected with the previous one you listed down. The important thing here is to keep writing. Don’t stop to edit yourself until you’ve written down everything you can. If you feel conscious about what you come up with, you can turn it into a little game. Set a timer for 9 minutes and don’t stop until your time runs out. You can also give these other brainstorming techniques a try.

Once you’re happy with the list you’ve come up with, it’s time to start pruning it down. Choose the images that are more unusual since these are the ones that will surely stand out to your audience. Above, you can see the example that Nancy came up with. Instead of going for the cliched image of a “handshake in front of a globe” for partnership, she opted for a reef ecosystem and the dance partners Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. If you want to use a metaphor that references pop culture, make sure it’s something that is appropriate for your audience’s demographics. The Astaire/Rogers metaphor won’t make sense to millennials, but perhaps a reference to the Avengers will. Always consider the point of view of your audience when choosing the perfect metaphor.

With your metaphor planned, it’s time to incorporate them with your visuals. It’s one thing to hear you liken your new security plan to a terrifying guard dog, but it’s a different experience to see it right in front of their eyes. If you really want to engage your audience, your metaphor is a great way to enhance the slide decks you present. Instead of using stock images and cliched graphics, you can perfectly illustrate your points with a powerful visual metaphor.

To connect with an audience, you need to urge them to embrace your core message. The best way to do that is by tapping into their imagination. Commonly used in artistic expression, the power of the metaphor can also improve your presentations. Give your audience an opportunity to see a unique presentation by translating your ideas into something that they can relate to.

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Featured Image: Death to the Stock Photo

How to Create a STAR Moment for Your Presentations

Are your presentations falling flat? In her book Resonate, Nancy Duarte shares a few methods for a dramatic and memorable presentation delivery.

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A successful presentation creates a connection with the audience. In other words, it has to have “Something They’ll Always Remember.” The STAR moment doesn’t have to be particularly big or flashy, but it needs to be awe-inspiring. According to Duarte, it’s all about creating a “significant, sincere, and enlightening moment…that helps magnify your big idea.”

A huge spectacle doesn’t automatically equal to a STAR moment, particularly if it distracts the audience from your core message.

So how does it work? Duarte named five different types of STAR Moments in her book. Here’s a short review and some tips on how you can use them to make your presentations stand out:

1.) Memorable Dramatization

You can create a memorable impression with small dramatizations throughout your presentation. These dramatizations don’t have to be complicated. You can simply make use of props to help illustrate your points, or perform a demonstration of your product. What’s important is that you take your key points and turn them into something that your audience can watch play, which will help them understand the information you’re sharing with them.

As an example, Duarte cites how Richard Feynman explained the likely cause of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. As one of the investigators on the case, Feynman demonstrated what went wrong using a few props during a televised hearing. According to the physicist, the O-rings in the shuttle became less resilient due to the cold weather. To explain his point, he compressed a similar O-ring using a clamp and immersed it in ice-cold water.

2.) Repeatable Sound Bites

You can also repeat short and memorable phrases throughout your presentation—”sound bites,” as Duarte calls these. To be effective, they should be easily recalled and communicated to others. Take note of all the critical messages in your presentation and constantly repeat them verbatim throughout your presentation. This will help your audience remember your main arguments, and echo your points to their colleagues and social media followers.

3.) Evocative Visuals

Visuals wields a different power over words. It’s one thing to read or hear something. It’s a completely different experience to see it represented by a picture or video. They are even more powerful if you want to portray abstract concepts. You can use images to add impact to the data you’re presenting. Instead of using a graph or a chart, add some illustrations that will properly present the point you’re making.

STAR moment - Conservation International

Another thing that Duarte suggests is the use of contrasting images. She provides a few slides from Conservation International as an example. In their campaign, scenic pictures of the ocean are juxtaposed with images of polluted beaches.

4.) Emotive Storytelling

Of course, the best way to connect with your audience is by showing them something they can relate to. Another way to create a STAR moment in your presentation is through storytelling. As we’ve mentioned in the past, sharing stories is part of our nature as social beings. Don’t be afraid to tell a story that reveals the emotions driving your presentation. If you’re pitching to investors, go ahead and share your business story. Show them how passionate you are about your venture.

5.) Shocking Statistics

The last way to create a STAR moment is by integrating statistics and data to your presentation. Things become more concrete if there’s a specific number attached to it. But don’t just hand out a large figure. Contextualize your statistics in a way that your audience can easily relate to.

In Resonate, Duarte cites how Steve Jobs framed the 5 million songs sold every day in the iTunes store: “We are selling over five million songs a day now. Isn’t that unbelievable? Five million songs a day! That’s 58 songs every second of every minute of every hour of every day.”

Try adding a STAR moment to your next presentation. Create an experience that will allow your audience to take your message to heart.

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Duarte, Nancy. “Resonate.” Duarte. Accessed September 26, 2014.



Featured Image: Screen shot of the Resonate Multimedia Version 

These are the 5 Presentation Books that Should Be on Your Reading List

Improving your presentation skills will take time, but you can speed up the process through a bit of research. We’ve compiled five presentation books that can help you become the effective communicator you aspire to be. Make some room for these titles on your night stand!

Presentation books focused on content and delivery

1.) Presenting to Win: The Art of Telling Your Story‘ by Jerry Weissman


Jerry Weissman’s book offers readers techniques in content creation and delivery. The title adheres to a strong sense of structure that mirrors the advice it gives. It’s underlying cause is to help readers create meaningful messages that will stay with the audience.

Thirty million presentations will be given today. Millions will fail. Millions more will be received with yawns. A rare few will establish the most profound connection, in which presenter and audience understand each other perfectly…discover common ground… and, together, decide to act.

 In this fully updated edition, Jerry Weissman, the world’s #1 presentation consultant, shows how to connect with even the toughest, most high-level audiences…and move them to action! He teaches presenters of all kinds how to dump those PowerPoint templates once and for all and tell compelling stories that focus on what’s in it for the audience.

 Weissman’s techniques have proven themselves with billions of dollars on the line. Thousands of his elite clients have already mastered them. Now it’s your turn!

2.) The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to Be Insanely Great in Front of Any Audience‘ by Carmine Gallo


The presentations Steve Jobs gave for Apple have become benchmarks for great delivery. Carmine Gallo delves into what makes Steve Jobs an effective speaker, and lends practical advice to his readers. In his book, Gallo emphasizes the importance of a good story that connects with the audience.

Former Apple CEO Steve Jobs’s wildly popular presentations have set a new global gold standard—and now this step-by-step guide shows you exactly how to use his crowd-pleasing techniques in your own presentations.

The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs is as close as you’ll ever get to having the master presenter himself speak directly in your ear. Communications expert Carmine Gallo has studied and analyzed the very best of Jobs’s performances, offering point-by-point examples, tried-and-true techniques, and proven presentation secrets….

With this revolutionary approach, you’ll be surprised at how easy it is to sell your ideas, share your enthusiasm, and wow your audience the Steve Jobs way.

Presentation books focused on design

3.) slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations’ by Nancy Duarte


Nancy Duarte’s book is a feast for the eyes, which proves that it’s an excellent reference for presentation design. The comprehensive guide is a product of the author’s experience as an industry leader, working with high profile clients like Al Gore.

No matter where you are on the organizational ladder, the odds are high that you’ve delivered a high-stakes presentation to your peers, your boss, your customers, or the general public. Presentation software is one of the few tools that requires professionals to think visually on an almost daily basis. But unlike verbal skills, effective visual expression is not easy, natural, or actively taught in schools or business training programs. slide:ology fills that void.

Written by Nancy Duarte, President and CEO of Duarte Design, the firm that created the presentation for Al Gore’s Oscar-winning film, An Inconvenient Truth, this book is full of practical approaches to visual story development that can be applied by anyone. The book combines conceptual thinking and inspirational design, with insightful case studies from the world’s leading brands…..

Millions of presentations and billions of slides have been produced — and most of them miss the mark. slide:ology will challenge your traditional approach to creating slides by teaching you how to be a visual thinker. And it will help your career by creating momentum for your cause.

4.) Speaking PowerPoint’ by Bruce Gabrielle


Bruce Gabrielle’s book offers a fresh take on using PowerPoint for business presentations. While it might not be as ‘glitzy’ as Duarte’s book, it offers concrete tips that are useful for the more corporate-oriented reader.

You use PowerPoint at work to create strategic plans, executive briefings, research reports and other boardroom-style slides. But could your slides be clearer, more convincing and built in half the time? You bet!

Learn a new method for business managers who want to use PowerPoint at work to drive strategy. The Mindworks Presentation Method is based on 40 years of research in brain science, instructional design and information design and will help you to

Eliminate time wasters and complete PowerPoint decks three times faster
Enhance your credibility by creating visually pleasing slides using simple graphic design rules
Make complex slides easier to understand and avoid “Death by PowerPoint” forever
Make audiences more likely to agree with you by applying the proven principles of master persuaders

A mix of both worlds

5.)Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery’ by Garr Reynolds


In this title, Garr Reynolds effectively guides his readers through three aspects of presentation: preparation, design, and delivery. The title refers to his “Zen” presentation philosophy, which advocates a simple and minimalist plan of action.

Presentation designer and internationally acclaimed communications expert Garr Reynolds, creator of the most popular Web site on presentation design and delivery on the net — — shares his experience in a provocative mix of illumination, inspiration, education, and guidance that will change the way you think about making presentations with PowerPoint or Keynote. Presentation Zen challenges the conventional wisdom of making “slide presentations” in today’s world and encourages you to think differently and more creatively about the preparation, design, and delivery of your presentations. Garr shares lessons and perspectives that draw upon practical advice from the fields of communication and business. Combining solid principles of design with the tenets of Zen simplicity, this book will help you along the path to simpler, more effective presentations.

Featured Image: Flickr

Our Five Favorite Books on Presenting with PowerPoint

1. Slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations by Nancy DuarteBook_Slideology

Nancy Duarte is a graphic designer, writer, and head of the presentation design firm Duarte Design. The firm is most notable for designing the award-winning Al Gore presentation-turned-movie, An Inconvenient Truth. In Slide:ology, she provides a great resource for getting inside the mind of a presentation designer and seeing how they think; conceptually and technically. The book breaks down the problems that people experience with PowerPoint, such as defaulting to bullet points or using clip art. This is a great read if you want to learn how to think about PowerPoint in a new, creative way.

2. Beyond Bullet Points by Cliff Atkinsonbbp

BBP hits on many of the subjects we’ve emphasized in our blog, and it’s a very good general how-to for good PowerPoint design. Naturally, a big point it makes is to avoid the use of bullet points in PowerPoint. Atkinson aptly observes that while bullet points are very easy to make, they’re difficult for the audience to comprehend and relate to. The book then hits on many other important themes in PowerPoint, such as the importance of storyboarding and the classic story arch.



3. Presentation Zen by Garr Reynoldszen-book1-x

Supreme overlord of the popular presentation blog, Garr Reynolds has a lot to say on the art of presenting, and he’s compiled a good many of his thoughts in this book. A must read for any PowerPoint enthusiast or public speaker.





4. Speaking PowerPoint: The New Language of Business by Bruce Gabrielspeaking powerpoint

Compared to the more conceptual, creative ideas taught in the aforementioned books, this is more of a basic how-to. That’s not to say that Bruce Gabriel’s book on stolid PowerPoint design isn’t very useful. This book, written to be used by business people in boardroom presentations, is easy to comprehend and has a ton of practical application.


5. The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to Be Insanely Great in Front of Any Audience by Carmine GalloSteve_Jobs_Cover[1]