David Weinberger
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How to write a real good PowerPoint

30 October 2000

Having written my share of PowerPoint presentations in the past 10 years, and having seen more than my share of them, I'd like to pass along to you some of the insights I've gained. Follow these simple guidelines and you're sure to have a "deck" that meets — or even surpasses — the minimum daily requirements for PowerPoint business intake.

The title slide is tremendously important. Remember, you only get one chance to really screw up your first impression. Give it a title that makes clear just how significant this presentation is going to be, and how smart you are. Tip: It's good to begin with the word "A", as in "A PsychoDemoGraphic Exploration of..." or "A MetaModal Model of Valuation in..." That little word "A" lets you get away with claiming a territory clearly beyond your competence while still sounding almost humble.

There are some simple formatting tricks that will make every presentation look great. Put your company logo in a corner of every page. By "corner" I mean, of course, a full quarter of the page. It's been proven that when people read bullet points written over a company's logo, the harder it is for them to read the text, the further the logo is driven into their brain. If you make the logo big and bright enough, physics itself may cause it to be imprinted in your audience's brain so that it doesn't matter what you actually say. In one documented case, a presenter put a logo two thirds the size of the page smack dab in the center of every slide, and then put the bullet points in a light gray font so that they were literally unreadable, and at the end of the presentation, the financial analysts left the room and doubled the stock price. The kicker is that every single bullet point said simply "If you can read this, then you're sitting too close." It's true. It happened to a friend of my cousin's. Really.

Remember to capitalize the first letter of every word in every slide's title, even the "little" words like "a" and "of." In the bullet points, capitalize any word you like or are proud of spelling correctly. No point in taking chances that you'll get the real capitalization rules wrong. After all, that's the strategy you use when you always refer to yourself as "myself" rather than having to know the difference between "me" and "I." (By the way, the grammatical rule is simple: it's "I" when you're taking credit and it's "me" when you're blaming someone else.)

We all know the old rule about how many bullets to put on a slide: As many as fit. And keep in mind that "fit" is such a relative term; that's why PowerPoint lets us make fonts smaller. But we're in a new "with-it" age when the old rules don't Apply any More. (Notice, by the way, my use of the Random Capitalization Rule.) The new rule says: It doesn't matter how many bullets you have on a page, what counts is that you read every word in every bullet out loud. And if you haven't been able to fill up the slide with words, digress to use up the time. Remember, your audience isn't there to hear you not speak!

Don't forget: every third slide — at least — has to be a 2x2 matrix that puts your company in the upper right. Feel free to manipulate the axes until you get this right. For example, if you have to have an X axis that's labeled "Value" and a Y axis labeled "Companies that End in 'X'," then go right ahead.

Now, things are getting pretty serious, and maybe even profound (i.e., no one understands what you're talking about) in your presentation, so it's time to show you're a regular Joe or Jane by tacking in a bad scan of a randomly chosen comic strip. For example, here's one you might want to use. It's from the very popular Mark Trail strip of October 27:

Two cougars are nuzzling on a wilderness peak. From a helicopter comes "I don't think your pet cougar is going to have any problems adjusting to his new home!" Then Jim says "I believe that friend he found is a female." Suzie says, "Thank you very much Jim, for helping us with our problem." Jim replies, "I'm glad it worked out."

Wow. This is just so apropos to everything that you're sure to get a chuckle. The ice is broken. Everyone's really having fun now.

Then it's back to the serious work at hand. Be sure to have a slide showing the outside of your building because that's a sure-fire way to impress people. "Jeez," your audience will think, "this must be one heck of a company to actually work in an office building!"

Important tip: Leave in some slides from some other presentation that has nothing to do with this. That way you'll have the opportunity to announce you're skipping over a slide, subliminally positioning yourself as a person so important that you've actually done a PowerPoint presentation before.

When you're done tweaking the deck and getting it just the way you want, be sure to show it in edit mode so that none of the animations work. Even better, put it into slide sorter mode so people have to screw their eyeballs in extra tight to be able to read any of it; this encourages people to pay attention.

Oh, and be sure to leave the paper clip guy on in the corner. You'll look like a real professional!

David Weinberger is editor of Journal of the Hyperlinked Organization.