Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Five “Es” of PowerPoint

For years now some people have been trying to tell other people how to use and how not to use PowerPoint (a particularly funny one, here). There are books, articles, videos, presentations, blogs and now there are even experts on Twitter (if your tweeting, follow me at @tzagnoli or our firm at @ZMF_LLC).

What is it that prevents us from heeding the advice that has been heaped upon us for over a decade now? My hypothesis is that we are confused, lazy, stubborn and cannot give up on three erroneous beliefs that we hold as truths.

1) “my content is different and it is impossible to make it interesting”
2) “my content is complex and it is impossible to simplify it”
3) “stop lights are red, money is green, yellow means warning, blue is for trust, purple is royal………”

No matter who you are or what you are presenting, your PowerPoint should uphold the five “Es”:


  • Entertain
  • Energize
  • Emphasize
  • Explain
  • Evoke
  1. Entertain. Every presentation needs a laugh or some eye candy to move it along. Audiences crave entertainment. With the internet it is easy to find video, photographs, cartoons and quotes that will give your audience a good chuckle. When members of an audience respond audibly, they become more involved in what you are saying. An involved audience makes your job easier. While finding entertaining material is a simple matter of searching, it does take time. Lots of it. Starting the night before your presentation limits your resources. Even if your content won’t be finished until hours (or minutes) before you take the stage, put your creative cap on long before. Make a library for yourself of visuals that might work in the future. You will surprise yourself how entertained you are as you build your treasure chest of wit. Here is one of my favorites.

  2. Energize. Energy is the key component of dynamism and dynamism is central to credibility. Credibility is the foundation for everything you present. If people aren’t buying what you are selling, sit down. The phrase “short bursts of energy” explains it best. Your goal is to create a slide show that delivers short bursts of energy. One word on a slide will do this. So will a song, a sound, a photo or a lively animation.


  3. Emphasize. Bigger is not necessarily the answer. Red is not the solution. Repetition works some of the time. Redundancy isn’t it. It is important to give emphasis where emphasis is due. The technique for PowerPoint is similar to that of good speaking skills when you are distinguishing the filler, from the point, from the really important point. Your voice and your body are your tools. When you want to cue the audience that you are saying something of particular importance, you might move to a different place on the stage. Or your voice changes rate of speech, rhythm, volume, etc. You can give the same types of indication with slides. Change the background, font style, or positioning of content on the page. Use a series of transitions to go quickly or more slowly through a set of related images. The main objective when wanting to show emphasis is to change it up. Help your audience know the weight of the moment.

  4. Explain. Now here comes the challenge. And the most frequently cited excuse for not breaking poor communication habits. Use your visual images to explain and teach what you are talking about. It can be done! No matter your content. And if you don’t believe me, or even if you do, take a field trip to the nearest science museum. Watch the videos or slide shows that have been made for children to explain how life began, or spaceships fly or electricity moves. Explaining something by showing it takes more work than just tossing out the words. A few easy fixes to get you started:

    - Use visual metaphors. Instead of showing a balance sheet, or even a pie chart, show a picture of the Trump Tower next to the Wrigley Building to explain the comparison of your sales to the competitors. Or take a digital photo of an orange and a tangerine to show shrinking market share. Or if your CEO has a sense of humor, a grape and a raisin.

    - Instead of just highlighting an important line of numbers, enlarge it and overlay on the original type. You will not lose the context and the audience will not have to sort through all the chatter on the page.

    - Take the axes off your bar or line graphs.

    - Instead of using the headings from a complicated financial table, label the enlarged numbers you want to be explained.

  5. Evoke. The last “E” works double duty. First, the goal is to evoke a response from your audience. They should be reacting intellectually and emotionally to what is being shown. The visual is trying to provoke the audience into thinking about what you are saying. Second, you want to evoke a memory as to what you are supposed to be addressing at that moment. Slides should not be lists of bullets or pages of text that serve as your cheat sheet. But if you know what you are going to say, a clever visual reminder is a great way to work without notes.


Share your thoughts on the Five Es. Do you have a success story using one of the Es?


Graphic examples from:
- USA Today Snapshots
- Award-winning and most frequently downloaded SlideShare presentations (Thirst
and Shift Happens)
- Presentation Zen

1 comment:

andrea907 said...

What's a good article! It's very useful .Cues I'd like to make a memorable PowerPoint presentation so that I can upload it to website, just like YouTube, face book and my own blog and so on. After we make a good slideshow then we can convent it to some formats that can be uploading online.