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Death by PowerPoint – (1/2)

Category: Rubric – a finer way of doing

Dr Waqas Rabbani,

Assistant Professor,

Behavioural Sciences, STMU

(Read time: 5.5 minutes)

(Word count: 1000)

“Death by Chocolate” inevitably waters our mouth but its analogue, “Death by PowerPoint”, is one of the worst nightmares of any presenter. Being part of our day to day teaching, presentations, meetings and even public talks, for the last three decades, we have started taking PowerPoint presentations for granted. It used to be our superpower, but over time we have lost its charm. The transformation from superpower to weakness made me think:

  • Are we the cause of Death by PowerPoint?
  • Can we do something about it?

Before coming to the answers, we must understand what is this phenomenon and why it happens? It is a very volatile affair, anyone, no matter how expert or experienced, can be a perpetrator. Like any anomaly, there is a set of signs which manifest in the audience, when they suffer “Death by PowerPoint”. A few are:

  • Despite sound sleep, their lower jaw starts dropping and morphs into a yawn (be aware – yawns are highly contagious).
  • The seats are suddenly very uncomfortable to them, and they start showing signs of restlessness and irritability. Some may even leave the room.
  • Their ballpoints may start showing attention-seeking behaviour. To avoid its tantrum, a few may produce a clicking sound from their ballpoints or start fidgeting it between their fingers.
  • A sudden crisis on Facebook, Instagram or WhatsApp may occur, and the audience may have a dire need to respond to it and share it.
  • And then there are saints; a revelation is upon them, and they have found their purpose of life during your presentation. They will open another book, work or file, in pursuit of their “Holy Grail”.

Now coming back to answering the questions. We like things which are pleasant to our eyes and ears. This blog will focus on “the eyes” part; the way it looks to the audience. In the next blog, I will talk about “the ears” part; the way it is perceived by the audience.

Let us talk about “the eyes” part. I call them “Seven Deadly Sins” of PowerPoint:

  1. Skipping the homework
  2. It is the most crucial part, and unfortunately, the most neglected one. After preparing the presentation, one must have answers to the following questions:

    • Who is the audience; their number, knowledge and expectations?
    • How is the light in the room? Where are the windows?
    • Is there audio aid available? If yes, what kind of mic they have?
    • How your presentation looks to them, especially the last bench?
    • Will your video or animations work on their projector?
    • Do they have slide changer or pointer?
    • Do I need internet or tech support?
    • How readily is my backup available?
    • Do I need to take any other material or equipment with me?
    1. Starving the Font

    Do not starve the fonts. It is not just a sin; it is a crime. Let them grow, let them thrive, let them show themselves. Feed them with a proper diet called “Font Size”. It should be big enough that person standing at the end of the hall can read it. Text size can range from 24 to 36, and for headings, it can range from 36 to 46. Keeping the font size constant throughout all slides is another vital aspect.

    1. Polyphagia
    2. It always reminds me of the “Iftar” party. You have been hungry for so long, and now you want to stuff in everything you find. After some time you realise that your tummy is so tight that it is hard to breathe and you cannot even feel the taste of the food. Too much of everything will give gastritis to your presentation. Be precise and concise; do not kill the appetite with whole loads of words.

      1. Disregard “Social-distancing”

      Keep the “Social-distance”, let your slides talk freely. How would you feel if you are talking on a topic, and someone jumps in breaching your personal space and starts talking on a different issue? Your slides speak to the audience, and two ideas should not speak at one time; thus, respecting the boundaries. Remember the 1-6-6 rule. There should be one idea per slide,  a maximum of six lines, and approximately six words in each line. It is a good idea to use bullets.

      1. Clowning the text

      We all know this guy; he wears the brightest smile, heavy makeup and colourful clothes. He was there to bring joy and smile, sitting on the bench in front of McDonald’s. Every child wants to take a picture with him.He looks good if he keeps on sitting there, but when his spirit comes to PowerPoint text, it is a mess. I hope you have gotten the point.

      1. Defying “Colour Wheel”

      Defying “Colour Wheel” reminds me of old Bollywood dressing colour schemes. Everything painted in white; the coat, the shirt, the pants and the shoes, and on the worst days, a white hat as well. Font colour must complement with the background colours. It comes in to play while writing a text on a coloured background or an image. Try applying “Colour Wheel” in such situations. Choose the opposite colours for background and font, according to the wheel.

      1. Disrespect to ambience

      We usually prefer wearing darker shades at night and lighter shades in the day, same goes with the presentation. The underlying theme of the PowerPoint presentation should be according to the brightness in the room. That is why knowing about lights and windows in the room is essential, as said in the beginning. We can use darker themes for slides in the places where light is low, and the audience is not more than 20 feet away. For all other conditions, a lighter tone of themes is preferred.

      We live in an ever-evolving world, and there is a lot more to say. Covering everything is beyond the scope of this blog. Please share your thoughts in the comments, especially if you come up with other sins which may lead to “Death by PowerPoint”.

1 Comment

  1. FAHAD AZAM says:

    All very useful tips