Five ways to make your next PowerPoint presentation more dynamic

CPAs may prefer Excel over PowerPoint, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn a few things about the world’s most popular slideshow program.

In his blockbuster 1992 book Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus, author John Gray makes the incontrovertible point that, while of the same species, the two genders are fundamentally different—and understanding those differences is key to happy relationships.

Well, the same could be same of Excel and PowerPoint—two programs, fundamentally different, that are part of Microsoft’s ubiquitous Office Suite. By one estimate, about 350 PowerPoint presentations are given around the globe each second (but who’s counting, really?)—and most of those presentations, truth be told, are awful.

Among the worst are those that try to cram the precision and depth of Excel into the simplified, visual format of PowerPoint. When those two worlds collide, audiences are automatically induced into an hour-long slumber.

But, it doesn’t need to be this way. There’s a lot of good advice out there—including from Microsoft itself—on how to make the financial point without the dose of Ambien. Herewith, we provide five key tips on how to make the most of PowerPoint—and also how to just make a more persuasive financial presentation.

  1. First, learn to step outside the box
    The first thing to know, before anything else, is that you should avoid the template. PowerPoint provides lots of off-the-shelf options, but if you want people to pay attention and believe that they haven’t seen this show before, start with a blank canvas, pick your own fonts, and establish your own personality. There’s lots of good design advice in this Business Insider story.
  2. And, please, skip the bullet points
    No matter where you look, this advice is offered up again and again. The bullet point is ugly and intrusive—and if we’ve learned nothing else from Steve Jobs, it’s the power of having key points or selling features treated with distinction: given their own slide, or dropped into the presentation slide one-by-one, with lots of compelling images.
  3. When it comes to the numbers, be selective—and visual
    A key part of being a CPA is having to communicate data from financial statements. But, that doesn’t mean putting a whole balance sheet or income statement on a slide—and expecting your audience to follow along in 10-point font. Charts and ratios are, of course, much easier to show on a slide deck, but sometimes you do need more detail (let your audience be your guide).
    Companies like Slide Model provide financial statement PowerPoint templates, but Microsoft too can be a good resource, with tips on how to turn Excel data into PowerPoint charts. PC Mag also has some great tips on how to animate your graphics, so that elements of a bar chart or pie chart appear one by one.
  4. Master the PowerPoint presenting tricks
    These are all small points—but combined, they provide some powerful tools the next time you have to present.
    i. Start the show gracefully by renaming your file .PPS. That’s show mode, and it makes for a quick and clean launch into what you have to present (without making your whole deck visible off the top).
    ii. Harness the power of your smartphone. PowerPoint has an app, and as Microsoft helpfully explains on its website, you can use that app to turn your smartphone into a laser pointer and remote control for your presentation.
    iii. Use black and white to command attention. PC Mag has this great little tidbit about shortcuts that allow you to hit the W key to turn the screen completely white, or the B key to turn it black. “It’s a good technique to get all eyes on you,” says author Eric Griffith, “even if the slide is full of notes, animation, or video.”
  5. Know your audience—and cater to their needs
    Let’s be honest: sometimes financial types can get lost in the weeds. We like to show what we know, and we like to dive deep. But sometimes that’s not what’s needed—or, indeed, asked for—in a PowerPoint presentation. As presentation guru Nancy Duarte says in this Harvard Business Review blog, the key is to summarize what the audience cares about up front—“high-level findings, conclusions, recommendations, a call to action”—and create a short overview of key points before anything else in the slide deck. “The rest of your slides should serve as an appendix,” she counsels. “Follow the 10% rule: If your appendix is 50 slides, create 5 summary slides, and so on. After you present the summary, let the group drive the conversation, and refer to appendix slides as relevant questions and comments come up.”

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Have any other tips for optimizing PowerPoint presentations? Post a comment below.

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