The Right Approach to PowerPoint: Conversation with Doug Thomas

Created: Thursday, April 12, 2018, posted by Geetesh Bajaj at 9:30 am



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Doug Thomas
 
Doug Thomas once reviewed movies and rent you–or your parents–VHS tapes. After working a few months at Microsoft, he had an idea to get other people to create videos about Office. That idea turned into a new job of creating videos and training content for the Office Training Center, including the Office 15-Minute Webinars and Doug from Office video series. However, none of his videos are on VHS.

In this conversation, Doug explores the right approach to using PowerPoint more effectively.

Geetesh: Being a Word and Excel user, how do you differently approach PowerPoint?

Doug: For me, PowerPoint is a specter. You open Excel, see a grid and understand, “Ah, numbers go in these boxes.” Word opens and you understand you need to type words.

PowerPoint opens and… well, do you want me to write what I’m going to talk about? Or find a theme that looks and feels what I want to present? Most start typing notecards, the things they believe their presentation is about. That’s death by PowerPoint: ideas truncated to bullet points. And usually, you add more bullet points.

Doug Notes
Picture Courtesy: Harper Thomas

The picture [above] shows the first two parts of how I start a presentation:

  1. I grab pen and paper, usually go outside (which can be tough, I live in the cool Pacific Northwest climate), and write out what my topic or presentation is about. Maybe you have facts and figures, or a project that you’re reporting on. What are the main ideas? What are the points you want to get across? Getting the stuff in your head down in one place is key whether it’s a piece of paper, a notebook, a digital doc. Just don’t open PowerPoint to do so.
  2. Then I take the first copy, look it over, make notes, and start to find a structure, a spine of sorts I can hang the facts and stories off of. Then I rewrite. Then I get my computer and open…OneNote. And write down everything again, making changes, restructuring, finding a flow, an outline. Then moves items around in the outline.

I’ve taken 20 minutes to do this, or two days. But it’s only when I feel I have I have it down then I open PowerPoint. Each item in the outline is one slide. Then I might think about a theme or a color, or a look. But as I build my talk, if that point or idea can’t support a slide, it’s gone. So, I’m tightening all the time.

Note: The notes in the picture are of the talk from Presentation Summit 2017 on Authenticity in Presentations.

Geetesh: How do you cope with PowerPoint candy such as effects, animations, or multimedia?

Doug: Candy is a good word that: you shouldn’t have too much and save it to the end of your “meal.”

A good presentation doesn’t rely on tricks. If you’re animating something—moving an item for no reason—it’s the same as the second-grade teacher bouncing a ball across a slide—and it’s going to distract. I save all that candy to the end of creating the deck when I’m thinking about thinning the material (always trying to do that). I animate mostly when I have multiple items on the screen. For animations, I usually use Fade and extend the duration to a few seconds, so it’s slow.

Video is great, you can control it, but always have the next slide built on that same idea. So, if the video fails, and at one point it will fail, as it did at the aforementioned talk at the Presentation Summit 2017, then you have a slide to talk about what was missed. Do that instead of carrying on about the video that didn’t work. For transitions, I send them all to the normal setting, then I might pick one or two for a special transition if two slides really go together in theme.

Then there are times I futz. At my first Presentation Summit, I opened my talk on webinars with an analogy about the early days of Hollywood. I had a 15-second snippet from an old movie and worked for an hour getting the timing with the Curtains transition to work with the video snippet, so I’d have a red curtain open like the theaters of yore. Yes, I do like candy.


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