Presentations Made Better by PowerPoint. Really.

Zola Maddison /

As library professionals, we give a lot of presentations. We present at conferences, to our board, to our patrons, and we are even called upon to present to our immediate colleagues. It’s probably why so many of us feel the pressure to become better presenters. This week, one of WebJunction’s most compelling presenters, Betha Gutsche, shared her strategies for creating powerful PowerPoint presentations in her webinar, The Power of Image.

Gutsche’s artistic background, coupled with a long-standing interest in brain research (and many years delivering face-to-face and online presentations) has resulted in deep subject matter expertise in visual communication. We’ve all attended presentations where we thought ‘death by PowerPoint’ might actually be possible. But Gutsche reminds us that PowerPoint can play a very strong supporting role in our presentations—a tool that adds an extra punch to what we’re saying and further engage our audience. We can harness and take advantage of this tool by understanding why visual content is so powerful and following some basic principles.

The power of image begins in infancy; it is how we make sense of the world and how we store a lifetime of memories. Some of their power lies in the emotions they convey. Unlike text, images are able to make their emotional impact immediately. They also help to increase our recall. While only 10% of people remember information they hear 3 days later, 65% will remember information they see 3 days later. And as presenters, we are just as likely to feel this visual impact, helping us to stay connected to and inspired by our material.

Gutsche’s webinar is a great example of just how good a PowerPoint presentation can be. She mixes strong visuals with audience participation so that audience members contribute to the visuals while helping to articulate what makes each slide visually compelling. Here are her basic principles:
1.    Avoid cognitive overload – We've all seen the dreaded SLIDEUMENT: a slide trying to be a document. If you have detailed information, use handouts.
2.    Reduce & simplify – Follow Seth Godin’s approach of “No more than 6 words. Ever.”  Remember, your slides should support—not replace—you.
3.    Image trumps text – Why work so hard to find just the right words when an image can do it better and add emotion? The brain can process images and emotions while processing verbal information. This means you can tell compelling stories while showing compelling images for extra punch.
4.    Avoid chart junk – Keep your data simple and clean. What is the ‘nugget’ of information that you want your audience to understand?
5.    YKIWYSI – You know it when you see it! Trust your instincts and your own creativity for finding compelling images.

For many more tips on visual communication and design strategies, plus resources for finding great images, see Betha’s slides, related resources, and her webinar on the archive page.

[Image: Screen shot from Betha's webinar depicting audience engagement and visual contribution.]