Had the occasion to give away some tools to a friend as we relocated back to New York City, and seeing my wood chisels made me think about how tools are used, and misused. The wood chisel is a beautifully balanced, sharp implement for carving wood. However, often it’s misused – for removing nails, wedging open paint can lids, or similar utility jobs.

Recently, being in the audience for yet another powerpoint presentation at a mobile conference made me think about how that tool is also still misused. Why do so many of us still insist on treating powerpoint presentations like tacky brochures of sales point after sales point, statistic after statistic; mercilessly dragging our audience through bullet points and charts? Here’s a simple reminder of some golden rules for keeping you powerpoints both powerful and pointed:

Pre/During/Post: Dale Carnegie, the legendary sales coach and speaker had a great time-proven adage:

Tell Them What You’re Going To Tell Them.

Tell Them.

Tell Them What You Told Them.

OK, so it’s a little hokey on the surface, but under the surface is pure gold. The simplicity of setting the stage, delivering and wrapping up gives you and the audience a unified expectation outline for the presentation, and most importantly makes sure you underscore your points.

Pictures speak louder than words. Whatever you have to say will be strengthened and remembered with a good visual. Strong, compelling photos do so some much more to make your point sink in. I remember making a sales claim within a powerpoint, which may have invited doubt by the audience. I wanted to allow the doubt, but instead of using the “Now I know what you might be thinking….” line, I instead showed a picture of my golden lab doing that cocked head to the side thing when they hear a high pitched sound, accompanied by the overlaid copy:   “C’mon, Really?”. Great laugh from the audience and cleared the way for my point to be substantiated.

The “So What?” Rule. My personal favorite. If you must show text and <wince> bullet points, imagine a challenge at the bottom of each slide that asks “So What?”. Why are you showing this slide? Why should I care? If the text/bullet can’t pass the “So What?” litmus, then either rework it until it does, or lose it.

“Reveal” technique: Is anything worse than slides that show five or more points on the page at the same time? The speaker is on point one, and your eyes are on point four. Someone else raises a question about point 3. Information chaos. Instead, learn the simple custom animation tool in MS powerpoint, and reveal your talking points with a mouse click. It keeps you and your audience on the same point at the same time.

Check In & Be Prepared to Call an Audible: Your slide deck may be 40 pages long but that doesn’t mean you have to take your audience through every – single – slide. Do yourself and your audience the favor of checking in at important transitional moments to ask for questions or simply ask them “does this make sense so far” or “is this in line with what you were hoping to learn?”. Not only can it clarify what’s been covered thus far, but you might discover that your audience is really interested in slide 20 and you’re on slide 8. This willingness to check in & listen to your audience shows that you’re in communication mode, not just broadcast mode.

The need for “the deck” is going to be around for the foreseeable future, so why not start getting more out of yours. Funny thing about the chisel. When used improperly, it gets dull and chipped. When used in the hands of a craftsman, it makes art.