The Perils of Presentation Software

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Yesterday Librarian Emily was presenting a workshop on Powerpoint. One of the students wanted to know how to have a shower of hearts falling  into each slide. While a discussion of appropriateness ensued, I thought back to the days when I too was so enamored with presentation software that I added sounds and animations whenever possible.

Unfortunately those days are long gone. Part of it may be the ubiquity of PowerPoint. Every conference or workshop presentation has a slide presentation. Every vendor includes one in a sales presentation. And too many times, those slides and what the presenter says are the very same thing. I’m left thinking, “Wow. We could have saved a lot of time here if you’d just sent me the slides and let me view them on my own.” 

We have gotten into the presentation software business by default here in our library. Most instructors who require presentations also want students to have PowerPoints to go along with them. And many of our students have no idea how to use the software. And since we’re an office with people always here, students ask us. And now we give workshops as well. We focus on the how-to things: insertions, animations, fonts, etc. 

But if you were to ask my advice on the content of presentations, I would give the following. (Not as a communications expert, mind you, but as one who has now sat through thousands upon thousands of slides).

  • Make sure everything works before you get started. In this tech-savvy age, people have almost no patience for such glitches. In fact, I would recommend that if there is a total network outage, be ready to go without your presentation software. I have sat for fifteen-thirty minutes waiting for the IT person to get the network back up. And I have to tell you, your slides better be pretty spectacular if we have to wait for them.
  • Keep them short. Nothing makes me crazier (and oddly enough, ready to fall into a deep sleep immediately) than text-filled slides that are read to the audience by the presenter. Most slides can introduce major topics, but they should not be the presentation verbatim.
  • People tend to like pictures. If you can find a kitten doing something related to your topic, so much the better. Seriously, a picture to back up a point can be quite effective.
  • Check for errors. A spelling error is just that much more glaring when it’s projected on a giant screen. 

Basically, this is a rule I keep in mind: People who make PowerPoints tend to find them more fascinating than those who have to watch them. I think many developers use them as a crutch so that the audience’s eyes will be on the screen and not the person. But resist the urge. 

Please.

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