How To: PowerPoint Made Easy

How To: PowerPoint Made Easy

Liven up your business meetings!

By Narges Nirumvala, ACB

PowerPoint saves lives! Okay, maybe that’s taking it too far. But it can save the day – especially when it comes to business meetings. Effective use of presentation technology can turn a confusing and tedious meeting into a stimulating and useful experience.

Let me give you an example. A group from my home club – Fyrebyrde Toastmasters – attended our District conference recently. It was a wonderful conference…but then came the business meeting. One key item on the agenda was the financial report. I looked around at our table and the neighboring table but couldn’t find any financials printed out. I assumed, then, that the financial data was going to be presented via PowerPoint so we could see the material. Then I heard this strange, slow, screeching sound and turned my head to face the horror: It was coming from an overhead projector that might have been from the Stone Age.

The numbers on the transparency were so small I couldn’t read anything (and I have 20-20 vision). I squinted and leaned forward trying to discern anything, but there was no hope. The presenters hadn’t brought handouts with them, so since most of the audience members couldn’t read what was on the overhead, a kind old gentleman sitting near the front said he would read out every line. Every line!

An agenda item that should have taken a quick 10 to 15 minutes was stretched to an excruciating half hour. Using better technology to present the data would have engaged the audience and made for a more efficient meeting – and possibly even better decision making.

I have never understood why there aren’t more PowerPoint presentations at club meetings. Why don’t more people use them to complement their speeches and educational sessions?

Toastmasters International even provides a CD with a basic PowerPoint presentation for each module of its education series. When I presented my first educational workshop on PowerPoint to a group of Toastmasters, I asked this question and was surprised to find that the majority of people aren’t sure where to begin when it comes to using PowerPoint – and are too afraid to ask.

So this article is meant to show you how easy and fun it can be. We’re going to put together a PowerPoint presentation (also called a slide show) in six easy steps. For this exercise you will need a desktop or laptop computer already loaded with any version of Microsoft PowerPoint (I like how intuitive PowerPoint 2007 is, but PowerPoint 2003 is good, too).

Step 1: Create your content. I am a firm believer that your speech should be written (most of it, anyway, even if it’s in outline form) before you start working on your PowerPoint presentation. Why is this important? Because you are going to extract the necessary content from your speech and put that into your presentation. Without content you have nothing. So let’s say I’m giving my presentation for project 7 from the Competent Communication manual and have written a speech about “How to Lose Weight Safely and Effectively.”

During my speech, I’m going to have an introduction, followed by three well-researched points on weight loss, then a conclusion. This same information will translate well into PowerPoint. You would start in “Outline” view and start typing in key items from your speech. Typing is better than cutting and pasting, because you need to summarize the information while you type it in.

Step 2: Structure your content. You need to distribute the content between various slides. Let’s go through a standard slideshow structure. First you need a title slide that introduces you to the audience; in going with the previous example, the title slide could be labeled “How to Lose Weight Safely and Effectively” by Jane Smith, CC#7 – ABC Toastmasters Club. Then the next slide should be your introduction, just as in your speech. The next couple of slides after that have your core content – the three points of the speech – so perhaps you’d have one point per slide, with an example or clip art with each one. Finally, you’d present two closing slides – one that recaps your points again and then a “Thank you and Questions” slide.

You should always end with a slide that thanks the audience and opens up the session (if there’s time, of course) to questions from audience members. So that means we have seven slides altogether, in our example, right? Let’s review: We have the title slide, introduction slide, point 1 slide, point 2 slide, point 3 slide, closing slide and, lastly, the “Thank You and Questions” slide.

Step 3: Cut the fat or ‘de-clutter’ your slides. This is the most important step, but one people often neglect! You need each slide to have plenty of open or blank space. Plus, your sentences should be short, in the largest font possible. Remember, it should be clean, clear and legible. You should have only the most vital information on each slide. The idea of PowerPoint is to present the key points to the audience in an intriguing way, so audience members remain engaged. A relevant acronym is KISS: Keep It Simple Silly. So now you have seven simple, easy-to-read slides, right?

Step 4: Add the formatting. For a beginner or someone short on time, the simplest way to do this is to use a template. PowerPoint comes preloaded with a number of excellent designer templates (and you can buy hundreds more online), each with its own set of complementary fonts, colors and design elements. Some even have a theme, such as “industrial” or “technology.”

Using templates is the easiest way to make your presentation look more professional and polished. Someone has already done the work for you, so why not take advantage of it? As you become more confident and experienced, you can experiment with creating your own templates that fit the current trends in slide design.

Step 5: Add slide transitions. When the slide show moves from one slide to the next, that’s called a transition. PowerPoint comes preloaded with numerous interesting slide transitions. Some transitions are simple; the slides could drop down from the top of the screen. Some are much more dynamic; the slides could swirl in a spiral shape.

I recommend that you tailor both your template choice (see step 4) and your slide transitions to the context of your presentation. In the example about the weight loss speech, no presenter would want a template that is pink with pictures of donuts and candy all over it, with the slides bouncing in. That might turn people off or actually make them hungry! You can also have the slides transition on their own, so they could automatically change every five seconds, 10 seconds, etc. – any time interval you choose.

Step 6: Give it a trial run. Open up PowerPoint on your computer and prepare to practice your speech. Go to “Slide Show” view and click to start the slide show. This is a vital step since it will give you the opportunity to practice synchronizing your speech with your slide show. You may need to adjust some automated animation and transitions to work with your spoken words. This will also give you the opportunity to see if you need to improve the content on the slides or perhaps even add a slide or two. You may need to revisit steps 5 and 6 to perfect your show.

“You should have only the most vital information on each slide.”

Now your slide show should be ready. At this stage you should rehearse it a few more times with your speech, tweaking it if necessary.

One final point to keep in mind: Always remember to take a printout of your presentation with you, with enough copies for every member of your audience, so if you have a technology hiccup, you can still deliver a successful presentation.

Now you’ve explored how to set up your own PowerPoint presentation in six easy steps. This is just the beginning. Like anything in Toastmasters, the more you practice, the easier it will get. Also, don’t be afraid to ask your speech evaluator to assess the effectiveness of your PowerPoint presentation. After all, in Toastmasters we do evaluate everything.

Narges Nirumvala, ACB, CL,is a businesswoman, speaker and freelance writer. She’s a member of Fyrebyrde Toastmasters in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Narges can be reached at