An open letter to the PowerPoint programming team with public speaking inspired ideas for future PowerPoint features…
Dear PowerPoint Programmers:
Thank you for creating such a wonderful presentation aid. PowerPoint is like a Swiss Army knife in a presenter’s visual aid toolbox. It is a tool with tremendous power.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of people cannot control this power. Hour after hour, dreaded presentation after dreaded presentation, I continue to be amazed at the horrible presentations that speakers are able to create with PowerPoint at the core.
I teach a course titled Powerful PowerPoint Presentations. You’ll be happy to know that this course is always oversubscribed. Everyone is eager to tap into the power of PowerPoint.
I wish these people were motivated to become great PowerPoint artisans because their peers were giving fantastic PowerPoint presentations. Unfortunately, they are quite happy to become “adequate” users, because they know that any skill at all will put them in the top echelon.
Are PowerPoint users all morons? No, I don’t think so.
Is the tool itself crappy? Certainly not!
Perhaps the power of PowerPoint is just too great for the majority of users to handle by themselves. Like a jackhammer in the hands of a child, perhaps.
So, please consider the following suggestions to help tame the power of future PowerPoint versions.
1. Eliminate Slide Transitions
The verdict is in… users cannot handle the responsibility. If I had a dime for every random gratuitous slide transition that I’ve seen, I would have been grossly underpaid for suffering through these presentations.
Speaking of dimes, if you cannot eliminate the slide transition feature, consider making a user pay 10 cents for every slide transition used beyond 2 (a clear sign they are being overused). Donate the money to kiva.org. Here’s your ad slogan:
Microtaxing for Microlending… by Microsoft
2. Rewrite Your Documentation
From PowerPoint 2007, I searched for help to change the font. To my horror, I was presented with instructions to change the font in Access, InfoPath, OneNote, Outlook, Project, Publisher, and (hurray!) PowerPoint.
Why am I bombarded with all these non-relevant details? If this were a speech critique, I would be pointing out how reams of irrelevant details makes it more difficult for your message to reach your audience. But, I digress…
Instead of just spewing mechanical details, (e.g. “On the Home tab, in the Font box group, type or click a font in the Font group“), why not provide them with a virtual speech coach with useful advice like:
- Using fonts consistently makes your slides look more professional.
- When using different fonts on a slide, do so with purpose (e.g. one font for titles, one for labels), not to make things “look interesting”.
3. Partner with the Best
4. Prevent Suicide by PowerPoint
Atrocities are committed hourly with bullets, font choices, and colors, but you can’t exactly eliminate bullets, fonts, and colors from PowerPoint.
However, you can perform up-to-the-second analysis of the slide deck, and put up warnings when the user is making bad design decisions.
Some of these are trivial to implement:
- Count the number of words on a slide, and display it in the status bar. As the count rises, put up progressively stern warnings. (“Red alert: 100 words is a great start to a novel, but a lousy visual aid”)
- If the slide deck consists entirely of text, suggest that the user create a report in Word instead. (Better yet, just automatically launch Word after the 13th text-only slide.)
- Count the number of font variants in use in a slide deck. Caution users that their colleagues will laugh at them if every slide is something new. Better yet, give us an automatic way to apply a consistent font face throughout an entire slide deck. This would be especially helpful when cobbling together a presentation from multiple sources using cut-and-paste.
- Compute contrast ratios for all adjacent colors, and warn the user when something is hard to read. (“Pink text on yellow background may be hard for your audience to read.“)
5. Provide Better Support for Outlines
Presentations need to have a clear speech outline.
PowerPoint’s outlining support is awful. Both Outline Mode and Slide Sorter Mode give presenters only a one-dimensional stream view of their slides. The resulting slide deck is too often a sequence of individually designed slides that have no flow or macro-organization.
Make it possible to arrange groups of slides into units (e.g. these four slides are “background”, these eight are the “technical summary”).
- Let us apply formatting to entire units (e.g. a different background color to each section of the presentation as a visual cue to the audience).
- Let us create hierarchies among groups.
- Provide support for doing more presentation-level design.
6. Remember the Room
Some PowerPoint slides are designed entirely to be viewed at a computer where 10 point font is acceptable, even if not recommended. However, presenters are often oblivious to how their slides will look in a larger room. This isn’t your fault, but…
When a new slide deck is created, ask the user to specify the presentation setting, in general terms (e.g. small meeting room, lecture hall, etc.) or approximate dimensions. Use this to provide guidance on readable font sizes, diagram detail, etc. For example, I recently took an audience survey in a room with only six rows of chairs. Users at the back could not comfortably read fonts below 28 point font.
7. Enable Users to Insert Good Visuals
Please, end the clip art insanity.
Instead, allow us to search through stock photography website catalogues from within PowerPoint. (You can even take a cut of any purchased photos!) Once images are selected, make it easy for us to crop, resize, and optimize these photos (within PowerPoint) for embedding into slides. Why do I need yet another application open to do this?
8. Help Users Manage Slide Libraries
Don’t make us use third-party tools to organize, catalog, and search through slide libraries built up over time (particularly in corporate contexts). Provide this functionality in PowerPoint itself.
- Let me easily find all slides I’ve created with the words “Web 2.0” in them, and then choose among them to insert into a new presentation.
- Create a Super Slide Sorter that provides a slide desktop where I can sift through slides from dozens of presentations at a time, selecting what I need, and then easily combining them into a new presentation.
Six Minutes Public Speaking and Presentation Skills
p.s. Contact me if you’d like to discuss more ideas.
Your Wish List?
What features do you want the PowerPoint team to add/delete/change in future versions? Let me know in the comments.