At the risk of beating further a broken drum, five simple rules of powerpoint from Seth Godin

  1. No more than six words on a slide. EVER. There is no presentation so complex that this rule needs to be broken.
  2. No cheesy images. Use professional stock photo images.
  3. No dissolves, spins or other transitions.
  4. Sound effects can be used a few times per presentation, but never use the sound effects that are built in to the program. Instead, rip sounds and music from CDs and leverage the Proustian effect this can have. If people start bouncing up and down to the Grateful Dead, you’ve kept them from falling asleep, and you’ve reminded them that this isn’t a typical meeting you’re running.
  5. Don’t hand out print-outs of your slides. They don’t work without you there.

Overlooking the cruel irony of a list of bullet points about how not to do lists of bullet points, there’s a lot of good sense in the piece from which this comes.  The underlying thought is that presentations are always about marketing, because if you don’t want to sell an idea you wouldn’t be giving a presentation in the first place.

I would rewrite rule 5 and put it first:

5a. If your slides make any sense without your being there to present them, stop and start again.

It’s not a guarantee, but every really awful presentation I have seen has consisted of the speaker’s notes projected on a big screen.  Every truly brilliant presentation I have seen has had  an argument strongly illustrated by the slides but not stated by them.  That leaves an awful lot of more or less good presentations with more or fewer words and more or less dramatic imagery where the correlation is far from perfect.  But as a rule of thumb, strong images are better than weak images and fewer words are better than more words.  There is one exception to that:  shorter bullet points are not inherently better than longer bullet points – they take such a hit from being bullet points in the first place that shortening them helps only marginally.

Sure, this is different from the way everyone else does it. But everyone else is busy defending the status quo (which is easy) and you’re busy championing brave new innovations, which is difficult.

It is difficult.  The closest I have managed is probably these slides, delivering which really brought home to me just how much what we present is there to support the presenter rather than to give the audience an additional channel of communication.