Guide to PowerPoint Design

Presentation Skills and PowerPoint

 Recently someone asked me to put a Presentation Skills course together that included the use of PowerPoint and I thought that I’d put a “Twenty Point Guide to PowerPoint Design” here for everyone to use.

This is probably as good as an example of effective PowerPoint presentation as I’ve seen recently. Many thanks to James for letting me use it


1. Familiarise yourself with the technology. This means finding your way around the basics of putting together the presentation and how you’ll use the laptop/pc/data projector combination on the day. Bring a back up on stick or CD. Be prepared to do the presentation without the technology if something goes wrong.

2. You are your greatest audio visual aide. You may wish to encourage your audience to view your slides; however you will also want them to direct their attention back to yourself. The PowerPoint presentation adds value to your presentation – not the other way around.

3. Make sure the purpose is clear. Human beings are limited in the amount of information they can process at the same time. Have an idea about what your audience must know, think and believe at the end of the presentation and keep you’re your “must knows” limited to 7 – 9 points across your whole presentation.

4. Decide on your objectives and design your content and structure before your PowerPoint slides.

5. Remember that the presentation is all about you delivering what the audience will enjoy and learn from. Take full responsibility for the session. If you say something wrong – it’s down to you. If they don’t get it, it’s down to you too! Review everything from the audience perspective.

6. Be flexible. If the previous speaker overruns, you may be asked to shorten your presentation. Do not apologise and treat such inconveniences cheerfully. You may need to flick over slides – they won’t know.

7. The usual rules about presentations – forming rapport, stance, speech, managing nerves, clothes etc – still apply. I have seen some people hide behind their slides. On the other hand I’ve seen brilliant presenters electrify a large conference room without any technology.

8. Keep the slide numbers limited. It’s difficult make a rule about this but as a rule of thumb no more than 12 slides an hour. Some government ministries operate a 200 slides a day rule….

9. Keep your design simple. No more than one image to a slide. Keep bullet points to no more than 5 or 6. Give your most important point the best chance on the slide. You can talk around the subject but don’t feel that you need to put all this detail on the slide.

10. Keep it consistent. No more than 2 fonts in your presentation. Keep colours, font sizes, bullet points consistent throughout your presentation. Maintain one or two methods of slide transition throughout or better still don’t use anything too complicated.

11. Keep the design predictable, this limits the demand of the audience for unnecessary elements – unless you want to shock and then go for something completely different.

12. Don’t use slide transition sounds – they are a distraction unless used for particularly comic effect…once!

13. Use your branding. If you have a logo, use that and build your colour scheme around it. Put your name and contact details somewhere on the presentation, people will then remember your name and use it when they ask a question and can follow up with you later if the want to.

14. Think about the clarity of the slides. Many people say that they prefer darker backgrounds with lighter text. Use a large enough font. If you find yourself making the font smaller to get more on the slide, you’ve got too much on there. A good general rule is – as large and with as much contrast as possible.

15. Consider the accessibility of the material. Some of your audience may have sight difficulties and will rely on your voice. I once designed a text free presentation to a Chinese delegation that were having the presentation translated but didn’t think the problems this would cause the translators.

16. If you can, be imaginative with the images. I can’t help noticing that many standard PowerPoint clipart images now look a little hackneyed and dated. Try for something original. Ensure that anything you do use can be seen clearly from across the room.

17. Notice what works for other people. If you’ve spotted a presentation you like, make a note of what works. If it doesn’t work try to identify why. It’s interesting to note that we tend to remember the poor ones better than the good ones….

18. Don’t read from the slides. An oral presentation should focus on interactive speaking and listening, not reading by the speaker or the audience. The demands of spoken and written language differ significantly. Spoken language is shorter, less formal and more direct. Reading text ruins a presentation.

19. Many people like to have the slides to take away. I like to hand these out at the end as I like people to stay with me during the presentation and not run ahead by reading the slides I’ve yet to show.

20. Be prepared to break everyone of these rules! Wouldn’t it be dull if everyone was the same – experiment, be prepared to change, be yourself, ask for feedback. The cardinal rule is where I started – you are your best audio visual aide!!

Employee Engagement – how to get it

From an article item on the People Management website

 “The review, announced by the government in September last year, is intended to examine new ways to boost the performance of employees in the UK. Spearheaded by David MacLeod, it will seek to define effective employee engagement and examine the barriers to achieving it. But its publication comes at a time when many employees have been left battered and bruised after seeing their colleagues being made redundant and their organisations go through brutal restructuring.”

The piece goes onto describe the benefits of engaging staff in the success of the company, quoting one research study which concluded that engaged staff improved performance by 20%.

Great stuff. Worryingly lots of business owners apparantly don’t know how to do it.

This is a very quick guide – when I have a moment I’ll update it. If you have any questions please email or give me a ring – 07921001554 – I’m happy to discuss some ideas over the phone. Here goes…

  • 1. A hygiene note. Make sure your vision includes your staff. If you want to up-sticks and relocate to China. You can’t expect them to sign up to warmly.
  • 2. Work out what engagement means for you and your company. “Engagement” is one of those words which we all agree upon but – IMHO – no-one knows what it means. With one or more of your colleagues, list 157 things you’d notice about your company if your employees were as enthusiastic as you are about what you want to achieve. I’m talking very little things – small signs. This is going to take some discipline so keep at it. You may get more than 157 and if you do set yourself another mad figure – say 261.
  • 3. Go back down to list and highlight which ones you already see in some or more of your workers. Get creative – be a fly on the wall, be a customer, be a supplier and get noticing.
  • 4. Have a think about which are the things you’d see as employees become engaged – small signs of further improvement. You are going to focus your energies on this list
  • 5. Go back to stage 2. Make a plan to recognise these things that people are already doing. A central tenet here is to catch your people doing what you want them to do and reward them.
  • 6. Make a plan for stage 3. Remembering the following rules
    Myth management – it’s gossip that influences opinion
    – People are more convinced by what comes out of their own mouth than others
    – Bosses have personal influence (really, more than you think – people would like to hang out with you…)
    – People are more convinced by what they see and hear than what they are told – model engagement yourself
    – Don’t rely on money – once fairly treated we know that people are more motivated by things other than cash
    – Have conversations – there’s nothing like it – forget paper, policy, vision documents, your intranet on this occasion. Get out and talk to people about you want.
    – We all work towards what is focused on – make what you want rather than not what you don’t want (if you see what I mean..) the subject of this engagement project
  • 7. Remember stage 2 – as improvement happens, notice them and talk about
  • 8. Let me know how you get on!

: – )

We need humility from our experts

I went along to see Malcolm Gladwell last night. The author of “Blink” and “Tipping Point” is on tour in the UK, promoting his latest title “Outliers”.

To be completely honest I had no idea what to expect. I’d enjoyed “Blink” and some of the colour supplement excerpts of “Tipping Point”. I didn’t know if it was going to be a spectacle, stand-up or – gulp – a lecture!

I needn’t have worried. Gladwell presents his ideas simply and elegantly. His presentation style is gently self-depreciating and has the story telling skills of the greatest orators. Part of the pleasure of the hour or so he spoke, was his warm manner and quizzical attitude. The other enjoyable element was the wonderful novelty of bathing in his expansion of just one idea.

His central position was in relation to the phenomena of miscalibration, applying the idea to the current financial crisis with reference to the Battle of Chancellorsville during the American Civil war (stay with me here….also he explains it better than me – take a look at this video)

Basically miscalibration takes place when people become increasingly confident – eventually over-confident – when they perceive themselves as well informed. Gladwell used various research, anecdotes and observations to illustrate this. Because of my interest in Safety Assessment/Risk Assessment, the one which sticks in my mind is a piece of research conducted with a group of clinical psychologists.

The psychologists were introduced to a subject and 25 questions to answer about that subject (without interviewing him) and asked to answer the questions themselves, based on their assessment of what they observed. They were given increasingly more information, eventually the whole file on the guy, and asked to repeat the exercise.

Of course you would think that as they were given more information the accuracy of their answers would go up – right? Well I did.

However – not true. The accuracy improved marginally – 1 or .5 of a percent with each round of information. The initial score was around 25% and the final around 28%. That isn’t the end of it though. The study also asked the psychologists to estimate how successful they were in answering correctly – and this is the real value of the study.

They started off believing that they were going to be 30% accurate. Not bad (they are experts after all). This rose with each piece of information. On receiving the file they become around 90% sure that they had the whole story. So let’s recap.

With little knowledge about they subject they could accurately estimate how much, or how little, they knew about him. When they were well informed they knew just a little more but believed that they knew (nearly) everything!

Hence the references to Chancerville, when Fighting John Hooker had the best possible knowledge about his enemy and became overconfident. The financial crisis where the evening before bank leaders were talking confidently. Gallipoli where the British generals were hopelessly overconfident about their landing which led to great casualties – particularly among the Australian troops.

Does this mean that we shouldn’t gather knowledge? Should we not become experts in our chosen field?

Not necessarily the case.

  • Our approach to making sense of the world is often to make our assessment and respond. We are happy with our assessment and therefore we are perhaps less than keen to go back and re-evaluate.
  • Sometimes our professional roles require us to be certain about something – maybe to defend it. In every disaster movie there’s the dogmatic captain, pilot, sergeant, politician who doesn’t listen to the underling pointing at the danger just lurking over the ridge
  • Our self-image as adults sometimes requires us to hold certain belief about events and people. In the nastiest of forms this surfaces as prejudice. To shift from this requires a flexible mind and an enjoyment of the diversity that our experience of the world brings.

What can we do?

  • 1. We can think about the dynamic nature of our experience and the relationship of new information to our assessment. This may bring us into a fluid state of re-evaluation – or in other words a quick turn around between assessment and observation
  • 2. We may need to let go – to those positions, professional badges, accreditations which allow us to feel confident in our knowledge

As Gladwell said – what we need from our experts is not certainty, but humility.

“Myth Management” the key to workplace success

I’m grateful to Jane O’Hara blogging on the HR Magazine website about the key skills which enable leaders to engage staff in change.

I could blog for some time on the verb “to engage” but let’s agree for the moment that it describes a spectrum of a response between “Ok I’ll not get in your way” to “yippee!!”

I responded to Jane and that got me thinking – if someone held a gun to my head and asked what I thought was the number one of such skills I’d reply, in a strangulated fashion, “Myth Management”.

A lot has been written about leadership communication, much of it very interesting – I particularly appreciate the work done on rapport and what an understanding of Myers-Briggs types and communication predicates has offered to my own approach. However a quick google search on “Myth Management” threw up nothing – which was surprising  its probably the most important thing I’ve learnt over the last few years. For this I must thank Evan George from Brief in London

What does this rather unexact and uncertain notion as “Myth Management” say about leadership communication? Well ask yourself this – is it the fancy intranet that keeps communication flowing in your company? Staff newsletter? CEO briefings? Team meetings? Fabulous PowerPoint slides?

My guess is no. What drives communication is your (and my) organisation is rumour, innuendo, gossip and myth.

Let’s agree at for the moment that the only meaning that really matters is that which is taken on board by the listener, that perception is much more powerful than truth (if there is such a thing). People’s impressions drive their responses – why is that we smile immediately on seeing one colleague coming down the corridor towards and duck into a doorway when we see another? It’s their reputation! Also – and perhaps more importantly – we have a tendency to filter our responses to experiences based on the beliefs that we have formed. If we think that our employers think little of us, then all their communication will be viewed in this light with apparantly dismissive messages amplified and considerate ones ignored. 

Does it mean that we don’t have control over what we want other people to think/believe?

Evan would say that we can have a lot of influence over what we do – to the benefit of all involved – if we talk about what we enjoy and appreciate about it. Now this isn’t talking cr*p, “bigging something up” without reason. It’s about highlighting what it is valuable and valid.

For example – my family and I live in an area with a wide catchment area for just one secondary school. Unfortunately this school has had some bad reports and it’s a big scary place with lots of very active teenagers who spill out at 3.00 and fill the town with their talk, music and other interests! It’s exactly the kind of place which causes a certain amount of middle class panic – hey and I’m not immune!!

My son is due to go their next year and I was really delighted that they had provided a brilliant open days for the new intake who were shown around by existing pupils and generally given a good time by the staff. Everone knew that this day wasn’t “school” really, but everyone went away talking very positively about the experience and this has continued. Neighbours with older/no children are starting to say things like “they’ve really turned it around haven’t they”.

Now, this school will become an academy, have a shiny new head, new buildings and lots of cash thrown at it. However what will have the biggest impact will be what they say over the meat counter in Tesco’s.

What does this mean for our teams and companies? Well why not try this

  • At the beginning of team meetings ask everyone to spend a bit of time talking about what’s gone well this week
  • Wrap up project meetings by asking what those present will tell colleagues outside the group about the progress of the project
  • Try the wonderful (Evan again) positive rumours exercise. At the end of team building events by asking people to mingle whispering to each about team members, relating tales of their virtues and strengths, listening to others and passing them on – collecting stories as they go

Let me know what you think

: – )

BA staff working for nothing

Those following the difficulties facing British Airways will be aware that staff have been offered various ways that they can help out – part-time work, unpaid leave and working a month for nothing. This is clearly an unusual move and I feel for the board, passengers and – most of all – the staff of the stricken company.

I’m also in sympathy with those pointing out that chief executive, Willie Walsh, can probably more easily afford to hand backhis £61,000 pay cheque for July than most cabin staff, earning less than a third of that a year.

The Guardian editorial makes the point which made me think deeper though. Many dozens of employees have agreed to this cut and the Guardian asks whether this is through loyalty to the company or fear of the jobs, concluding that it must be the latter – I wonder, could it possibly be both? Surely they are not mutually exclusive?

Who is “the company”? My sister-in-law worked for a part of BA and really enjoyed it (she has since had a less than successful stint at another airline – let’s say the tangerine coloured and not hard one) For her the BA was her colleagues, the network of people she had shared a lot of time with over the years of long hours and being away from her home and loved ones. She would have signed up to support those people.

Can we never ask/be asked for loyalty by our employees? I think that work and the people who pay for us for it present us all with an opportunity for development, satisfaction, identity and enjoyment. If we conclude that folk will never forgo money for their employer we are signing up to the idea that work is just about wealth creation I think that we are all doomed to only live for our holidays….

Now people who know better than me say that BA have a stinking industrial relations record and I fully agree that it sounds like a dodgy deal. I’m just uncomfortable with the old me versus the bosses kind of thinking.

I wish them well.

Workplace Conflict worse than Flu, Stress and “Pulling Sickies” Combined?

I’m writing a magazine piece at the moment about the cost of Conflict in the workplace and boning up on recent research. It’s always tricky to come up with a financial cost of business and human suffering and one needs to be a bit careful about the agendas of those who publish such research.

Having said that the figures are a bit shocking

The Health and Safety Executive has calculated that 13.4 million days were lost to stress-related causes in 2007/8. Bupa reckon poorly staff spend 150 million days away sick with flu each year. The CBI have calculated that 25 million days are lost through staff taking un-warrented sickness absence.

The figures for the days lost through conflict are even more shocking. In it’s report “”Fight, Flight or Face It” an OPP/CiPD report calculates that 370 million working days are lost to conflict and it’s management each year in the UK. Now it’s important to note that this figure relates to time spent dealing with conflict rather than the absence of staff. However they reckon that the time spent dealing with stress amounts to in excess on £24 billion….

so even if they are a bit, out it’s still a lot of money

Interestingly the report shows the clear benefits of training, not only on the ability to manage conflict successfully but on the perception of conflict as a catalyst for change

There’s nothing wrong with a bit of boring

So the Apprentice draws to a close with the drama of the final eclipsed by the announcement that Sir Alan is going to wear the ermine.

It’s interesting and, I guess, reassuring that at the end of the day Sir Alan went for Yasmina, the steadiest candidate in many ways. Kate certainly had the presentational style, but the boss went for a quieter demeanor. This was borne out by the rather thin “best of” video.

Both women are very talented and have the people skills to go with the business acumen (whatever that is) – for once these was no jealous sneering (even in our house). Well done everyone.

Seeing is only believing if your neighbour has a three-legged dog

Carol Kedward, then of the University of Sussex in the UK, once told me that people only appeared to be mostly ornery and imbued with a frustrating “cussedness”. Carol went on to talk fondly of the most awkward and cynical people she knew – I’m unsure if her husband Rod was placed amongst these – as expressing something fundamentally human, the value of which we would do well to acknowledge and hold in the highest regard.

I’m talking about the most British of qualities – bloodymindedness, intractability, resoluteness of position, spirited defiance, the not-easily-convinced gene. According to popular legend, these were the qualities which got us through World War 2 – it’s the spirit of the Blitz, the Bulldog breed, the stout Englishman (and woman) the home front, make do and mend, don’t let the b*stards grind you down.

“People are always more convinced by what comes out of their mouths than anyone elses” is one of the central tenets of my work. I may be well researched, am experienced in the field – hellsbells – an expert even, the audience may smile and nod and go off and carry on doing what they were doing anyway.

In 2007 I attended a training course run by Harvey Ratner from Brief Consultancy. Now Harvey is a top guy, a first class trainer and the whole Brief approach is wonderfully facilitative. At the end of an inspiring two days, following a warm round of applause in Harvey’s honour, I turned to the person next to me and asked her what she thought

“Fantastic” she said, then after a pause, “but it will never work around here”.

Beware – seeing isn’t believing, speaking isn’t hearing, telling isn’t knowing – the only form of learning is self-learning.

(If I my neighbour told me that she had a three-legged dog, I’d assume that the dog had an accident and sympathise – I’d probably believe her though. If she told me that it was a five legged dog, I’d have to go around and have a good look, possibly give the spare leg a bit of a prod, look again, get an explanation and a character reference to make sure that she wasn’t a compulsive leg-puller. If I then went back to tell my wife, she wouldn’t believe me and, let’s face it, neither would you…..)

Why I wouldn’t have been any good in the trenches

I’m lucky enough to work a lot in the public sector, over the last few years in the criminal justice field. I was recently a nervous attender at an annual staff conference. The day was precluded by a such ticker tape of bad news which rendered me nigh jysterical – a four year slashing of budgets, staff redundancies, vilification of the Probation Service, the loss of on entire management level, attacks on the minister for claiming for a second home for her budgie or something.

I had been part of the conference planning and knew that senior managers who were presenting at the conference, wanted to walk on to stage accompanied by their favourate inspiring music. “The Wind Beneath my Wings”, “Respect”, “One Moment in Time” etc

The Friday prior to the conference I lost my nerve. I rang the HR Director to say I was worried that the music wasn’t going to go well – she patted me on the head and (quite rightly) told me to go away.

The following Tuesday I watched through laced fingers as the Chief Officer took to the conference stage to the tune of “I Walk the Line”. I needn’t have worried. She knew that, although times are hard, she had the support of all present who, regardless how they feel about the organisation are completely committed to the offenders, victims of crime and communities they serve.

The lessons are obvious. Sometimes, like the Chief Officer, I just need to Keep Calm and Carry On, alternatively the words of Mahatma Gandhi (and this would look better on a t-shirt in my opinion)

“First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win.”

: –  )

Hard Times at the Office

Sitting on any mode of public transport between 5 and 6.30 you can expect to over hear lots of conversation – football, holidays, who is picking the kids up from whose house etc. You don’t have to listen too carefully to log into another rich theme of post work banter – that swine in HR, the boss from hell, her over at accounts; then there’ll be “why doesn’t she get off her posterior (or equivalent)”, if he does that one more time…”. The level of bile reserved for work colleagues apparently knows no bounds. On one memorable occasion I listened to a fellow passenger’s full blown account of how she had caused the complete humiliating annihilation of a workmate for repeatedly coming back late from lunch. This account was so florid and boastful it sounded more like a scene from the Ok Corral than a well (or even badly) run office.

 All sorts of research into workplace happiness cite work colleagues as a significant source of work satisfaction. But what happens if things go wrong? It’s not uncommon for employers to step in to sort out a drop in production but what support is available to gently warm a frosty atmosphere, to deflect daggered looks or sweeten poisoned relationships. The implications for our well-being and stress levels speak for themselves.

 The fact is that we all have some responsibility for promoting good relationships in the office and a much improved, even happy atmosphere can be gained relatively quickly in the trickiest situations. I have been fortunate to be asked to help by running team building sessions in all sorts of situations and, whilst the problem seems complicated, the solutions are relatively simple although requiring persistence, goodwill and a willingness to accept that change is possible.

  •  Maintain “social language”. In my experience it’s the first thing to go when times are tough and the first thing to come back when things improve. Keep up the “Hi!”, “hellos” and “have a good weekends”.
  • Watch your “communication filters”. Human beings are impressive communicators. To be so effective we have developed filters to enable us to categorise events. In the workplace that tends to mean that we expect, and therefore focus on, the behaviour we tend to notice – i.e. moaning, complaining, failure to help etc. When we turn our filter to notice the positive contribution that people make it can have pleasing effects.
  • Talk about what you want (rather than what you don’t want). It is so much easier to understand when our colleagues talk about what they want, we can all join in! When they talk about what they don’t want we tend to spot the bits that relate to ourselves and that can make us feel uncomfortable, defensive etc.
  •  Talk about the future. Avoid talking about a past that can’t be changed. Talking about the future can make what you want to achieve more real. Combine this with a discussion about what we all want in the future can create tangible excitement.
  • Develop a way of dealing with difficult issues. There are some invaluable “rules” which can be adopted by teams to help them to communicate with each other at difficult times. Marshall Rosenberg’s Non-Violent Communication Model helps those who use it to express what their needs, their feelings and ask for what they want in an effective way.
  • Build a culture of appreciation. Work colleagues who regularly take time out to talk about how they value each other are in a good position when conflict arises. They know that underneath all the disagreement they are appreciated – no matter what.

Workplace Mediation

Unhappy workplace relationships interfere with your ability to get things done and risk formal action. Workplace mediation can bring about good solutions for everyone

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Team Facilitation

Your greatest assets are your staff. With team facilitated sessions I can enable you to access untapped resources. Help your people find their motivation and use these to deliver more for the business.

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Support for Managers

Specialising in building staff engagement and better relationships, I can provide training and coaching for your managers on how to get the best out of, and for, your staff.

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