Thought Leadership

PowerPoint hints and tips #2

By Colin Walls

I wrote before about my angle on presentation techniques. As I spend a lot of my time in front of an audience, I have given a lot of thought to how PowerPoint can be used as an effective tool for communication, instead of an instrument of torture.

I would like to share some more of those ideas with you today …

I have 3 tips to pass on in this posting. The first 2 are about starting the presentation and the third is concerned with answering questions.

As I mentioned in my last posting, I feel very strongly that the presenter should always be in complete control of what is displayed on the screen, as any spurious display will only be a distraction and you want your audience’s complete attention. So, tip #1 is: do not turn on the projector [or, at least, do not connect the laptop to the projector] until you have your first slide on display. This might take place long before you plan to start talking. A useful, informative title slide on the screen is welcoming and reassuring [“I am in the right room!”] to attendees as they arrive.

In order to get to this point efficiently, you need to be able to easily access your presentation. A good way to do that is to remember the 3 golden rules of successful presentation: prepare, prepare, prepare. In this case, the simplest preparation is to apply tip #2: put a shortcut to the presentation file [or a copy of the file, if you prefer] on the desktop, where you can get to it instantly after booting up. To make a shortcut, just open the folder where your PPT file is stored and drag the file to the desktop using the right mouse button. When you drop the file on the desktop, you will get a menu and one of the options is to create a shortcut. You can use a tip from my last posting – right click and choose “Show” – to have your slides on display in no time.

Many presenters are nervous about getting questions from the audience, as they are afraid that they will not have the answer. This is a reasonable fear, up to a point, as it is an opportunity for you, as the presenter, to lose control, which is not good. This can generally be avoided in a simple way by just saying “I am sorry. I do not know.” and moving on. I actually fear not getting questions, as audience interaction is almost always wholly beneficial. It is important to think about how you are going to behave while answering a question.

Remember, slides are just an aid to conveying a message. They can also be a distraction, if the content is not relevant to what you are saying, as may be the case during a Q&A interlude. This can also happen if you go “off piste” and discuss a side issue for which you do not have supporting slides. To avoid a distracting backdrop to your question answering, you could just turn off the projector [or break the connection], but there is a much simpler way, which is to apply tip #3: hit the B or W key. This will cause the screen to be blanked to black or white respectively. Hitting any key restores the slide display. Black is the best choice, as a bright white screen is rather distracting, but, in a badly lit room, white may be better.

Hopefully these tips will be helpful in your next presentation. There will be more …

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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at