February 3, 2011
Brandon S. Ellison, MBA, PHR
New month, new topic! I have been kicking around several different ideas of topics to cover in the month of February and I’ve finally landed on one that I think well be beneficial to most people: Microsoft Office. Now I’m sure most people out there are familiar with the Microsoft Office suite, and most people realize the incredible value they offer to the average businessperson. My purpose here is to give some quick advice for maximizing the value of some of MS Office’s most commonly used programs.
If you look at my picture to the right, you’ll notice that I’m a relatively young professional (though I feel old!). I’ve been using Microsoft Office programs for most of my life, all throughout school and into my career. I’ve always been impressed with the user friendliness of the programs and the capabilities each one has to make our lives easier. Here are some quick tips for how to get the most out of these programs in your career.
I feel like the obvious route would be to start with Microsoft Word, but I wanted to mix it up a little bit. I will get to MS Word next time, for now, let’s jump into MS PowerPoint. Here are 10 tips I have for how PowerPoint can set you apart from the rest:
The first step to a great PowerPoint presentation is to become familiar with the program. Microsoft Office is great in that most of the programs use the same basic commands throughout. Chances are, if you’ve had experience with a more common program like Microsoft Word, the learning curve for a program like PowerPoint shouldn’t be too difficult. In addition to this, there are tons of great educational resources on the web. If you’re unsure of how to do something in PowerPoint, just Google it! Check out this site I found that offers a ton of basic PowerPoint tutorials. If you go through these, you’ll be ready to design a professional PowerPoint in no time!
2. Understanding the value of PowerPoint
If you’re planning on using PowerPoint, you have a presentation that you have to give. No matter the size of the presentation you’re giving, this is a chance for you to showcase your professional abilities. Nothing is more impressive than a powerful presentation given in a professional manner. Whether you’re trying to sell a new client, communicate critical information to other department, or get in good with your boss, PowerPoint may provide you with an opportunity to impress. PowerPoint allows you to manage your presentation from both a functional and aesthetic perspective. It’s always been my philosophy that both areas are important. While I would rank functional above aesthetic, the latter is definitely not to be neglected. You could be presenting very pertinent information, but if you do so in a sloppy, unprofessional manner, you could be doing more damage than you think. Conversely, aesthetics can boost the value of already important information by creating a crisp, professional display for the information.
3. Work on your public speaking
I feel that I need to stress this point: PowerPoint is a tool, and a tool is only valuable when used correctly. PowerPoint will make your life easier, but it won’t pinch hit for your public speaking ability. With that said, practice, practice, practice! Research the fundamental skills associated with good public speaking and try to acclimate yourself to speaking in front of people. Here is a good resource to help you with preparing for a speech.
4. Outlining your presentation
Before you create your presentation, you should probably create an outline. Typically, I create my outlines in MS Word. Word offers a variety of bullets and numbering tools that will help you organize your presentation. Pay attention to the logical flow of the information you’re presenting. You want the presentation to naturally progress. Throwing in irrelevant information, or having a bad flow can be distracting for you audience and you run the risk of losing people. Once your outline is complete, you are ready to begin building your presentation.
5. Laying the foundation
Using your outline, you can start copying this information into a skeleton presentation. At this point, I’m not worried about aesthetics, it’s all content. I create my slides with the necessary information and I run through them to make sure everything flows well. Once the information is there, you can worry about aesthetics. As you’re creating your skeleton presentation, remember a few things:
You want to maintain a consistent format for displaying your information. Try to avoid using bullets on one slide and numbers on another to display the same type of information. Choose an appropriate font and stick with it (I recommend Calibri, Arial, or even Corbel). Also, select font sizes that fit the information. For example, display your slide titles in 44pt Bold Arial and your slide content in 24pt Regular Arial. For content slides, make sure your titles and text boxes are in the same place. When you transition from one slide to the next, if you break format, it is noticeable and can be distracting.
The purpose of a PowerPoint slide is to supplement your presentation, not to display it. Your slides should be short and concise. Writing complete sentences on a slide is rarely a good idea. Stick with bulleted lists and graphics. I once had a professor who told us to keep our slides to 15 words or less. This may not be appropriate in all circumstances, but it’s a good starting point. You don’t want to have slides that are so packed with information that you overwhelm your audience.
Microsoft Office programs come equipped with spell-check and grammar-check functions, use them! Having misspelled information in your presentation is unprofessional and embarrassing.
It’s a good idea to run through your presentation a few times to make sure that it stays within an appropriate threshold. Depending on the type of presentation you are giving, the information may dictate the length, but you do have some discretion here. Keep in mind the average attention span of an adult is about 20 minutes. If you’re planning on presenting War and Peace you might want to bring some blankets and pillows.
6. Slide/template design
If you want your presentation to stand out from the rest, you need to start thinking about slide/template design. Microsoft PowerPoint offers you the option of choosing from hundreds of stock designs or even creating your own templates. If you’re a novice PowerPoint user, you may want to stick with the stock templates. For more advanced users, I highly recommend creating your own templates (it’s easier than you think). I create all my own PowerPoint templates and I have received great response from it. Whether you choose a stock template, or you create your own, you need to remember some basic advice:
Don’t choose or create overly complicated designs. In most cases, this complexity will only be a distraction. Design can be easily overdone. Remember this, when in doubt, choose simplicity, you’ll never go wrong.
It’s a good idea to stay away from color-schemes that are too dark or have too much contrast. Try to choose a simple color-scheme that fits your presentation. If you’re giving your presentation to your boss or company, consider using a scheme that matches your company’s brand.
7. Custom animations
Animations are a nice way to improve your presentation. They allow you bring information in incrementally or to add emphasis to certain points. Check out the “Creating Animations” tutorial from previous link. Any discussion about creating custom animations needs to come with a serious disclaimer: don’t overdo it! Most of the animations within PowerPoint are not appropriate for a professional presentation. You don’t want to have your text flying in from crazy angles or add sound effects that can be distracting. If you’re going to add animation to your text, make it tasteful. My favorite is adding a subtle fade-in effect to my bullet points to be displayed sequentially. It makes it so that text doesn’t just appear so rigidly. I rarely use “fly-in” animations or any of the wild ones. Keep it tasteful, and keep it subtle. The purpose of animation is to enhance the presentation, not to steal the show.
8. Slide transitions
Much like custom animations, slide transitions are a great way to add some class to your presentation. Without slide transitions, your presentation will move rigidly from one slide to another. Keep in mind, the same rules apply to transitions as animation. Please don’t overdo it. I can’t stress this enough, animations and transitions that are too much are worse than none at all. I like to choose one, subtle transition and stay with it through the entire presentation. Switching back and fourth between different slide transitions is distracting. A presentation that flows well, will classy animation and slide transitions is very powerful.
Images are a great way to improve the quality of a presentation. Presentations that are too content-heavy can be overwhelming to the audience and ineffective. Adding images is a great way to fill space and break up the monotony of the information. When I add images to my PowerPoints, I tend to stick to some basic suggestions:
Some MS Office packages (especially the older ones) come with clipart galleries. Resist the temptation of putting these images in your presentations. Most of the clipart is crude and unappealing.
If the resolution and quality of the image you want to use is bad, you might want to rethink putting it in your presentation. Keep in mind, most presentations are projected onto a larger screen, this projection will only make a poor-quality image worse. I’m not saying you have to use ultra-high resolution images in your presentations, but try to select decent photographs and illustrations.
There are many sites available where you can purchase stock photos and illustrations. Sites likeistockphoto.com and shutterstock.com offer tons of photographs and graphics that could really enhance your presentation. Some newer versions of PowerPoint even allow you to download integrated widgets that let you search through sites like istockphoto.com and add images all inside of PowerPoint.
You don’t want to have a bunch of images with white backgrounds if you have a template that uses a colored background. The result of such will look sloppy and unprofessional. If you’re using a lot of square images with white backgrounds, adjust your slide design to a white background so that you don’t see the bounding frame of the image. You want your images to work with your design, not take away from it. If you only have one or two images that break from your design template, it’s not a big deal. Sometimes you have to include images that just don’t work with your template design. Consider using Microsoft’s image effects to put a subtle border around the image. This will create a separation that looks tasteful.
10. Charting/Excel imports
If you’re using your presentation to display data, PowerPoint and Excel both have excellent charts and graphs. Learning the basics of these will allow you to tastefully display your data within you presentation. Here is a nice tutorial for how you can use Microsoft Excel data in your PowerPoint presentation. Adding relevant charts and graphs can add credibility and authenticity to your presentations.
So that’s it! As you can probably tell, I’m pretty passionate about PowerPoint and the rest of the MS Office suite. I’m always open to a discussion on how to use MS Office to further your professional ends. Check back next week for a discussion on Microsoft Word.