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A Bright Tip on PowerPoint

I just finished reading Real Leaders Don’t Do PowerPoint: How to Sell Yourself and Your Ideas, an excellent book by Christopher Witt for those who write and deliver speeches.

As with so many books that take a strong stance, the author backtracks in the chapter “When You Must Use PowerPoint.” He admits that there are times and places for the ubiquitous Microsoft presentation software many of us have come to love–and hate.

In the section “Making the Best Use of PowerPoint” Witt shares a tip I should have known as someone who has used PowerPoint beneficially in business writing classes for years. He writes:

“In PowerPoint, the screen will go black when you press the B key, white when you press the W key.”

I use the B key often for a black screen. But W for a white screen? This new information excites me. Here’s why:

A black screen darkens the front of the room, which is often already dim to avoid washing out the slides. I love knowing how to produce a white screen, which will keep the front area, where I am presenting, bright.

Real Leaders Don’t Do PowerPoint has much valuable guidance for corporate presenters, and I will share more later. (Thanks to Marcia Yudkin for introducing me to the book.) For now, I just wanted to brighten your day with the W key.

Do you know PowerPoint secrets I ought to know? Please whisper them here.

Clarity, Conciseness, Zing, and More

Posted by Lynn Gaertner Johnson
By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English. She grew up in suburban Chicago, Illinois.

10 comments on “A Bright Tip on PowerPoint”

  • Extra light is helpful. I remember reading about the white-screen option but never thought about its effects on a room’s lighting.

    I just wonder whether it will be coming from the wrong direction for me. If a bright light comes from behind me, would it actually make it harder for the audience to see my face, which isn’t lighted? It depends on where I’m standing, I guess.

    One of my favorite PowerPoint “secrets” gives me a quick way to draw attention visually to an item on the slide. In Windows XP (not sure if newer Windows versions work the same), I go to the Control Panel and click “Mouse,” then “Pointer Options,” then “Show location of pointer when I press the CTRL key.”

  • Hi, Lynn. Thanks for mentioning Tufte’s compelling piece. I believe he shares important truths about communicating information in it.

    At the same time, as a visual learner, I appreciate slides used well in support of a presenter’s message.

  • Lynn,

    Thank you for your kind words about my book.

    The chapter on using PowerPoint if you have to isn’t so much a retraction of anything I wrote (or believe) as it is a concession to reality.

    Using PowerPoint has, unfortunately, become synonymous with giving a speech or presentation. And urging people (especially leaders) to avoid using it makes me feel like I’m tilting at windmills.

    I’ve developed a hierarchy of advice to my clients, depending on their situations and receptivity. 1) Don’t use it at all. 2) Use it as infrequently as possible. 3) When you do use it, use as few slides as necessary.

    I, myself, never use PowerPoint.

  • Chris, thank you for commenting and including a link to your blog. I look forward to reading more of your expert advice.

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