5 Essential Rules for Great PowerPoint Presentations

When was the last time you saw a PowerPoint slide that looked like this?

Did your eyes glaze over immediately after seeing all that text? Especially text straight out of the regs?

Why do we make PowerPoint presentations like this? 

It's a good question. One that has many answers: I'm lazy, I don't know any other way, I don't have time, I'm not a designer, etc....

Regardless of the answer, corporate counsel must take time to develop great PowerPoint presentations for legal training in order to keep employees engaged and focused. Even though you may save some time up front by using that recycled, text-based, colorless PowerPoint, you'll negate the entire purpose of doing the legal training in the first place: helping employees understand difficult legal concepts. 

Now that we've admitted that legal training PowerPoints are broken, how do we fix them? How do we create a great PowerPoint presentation?

Let's start by asking ourselves the most basic legal training question:

What is the purpose of a presentation?

Communication is about getting others to adopt your point of view, to help them understand why you’re excited (or sad, or optimistic or whatever else you are.) If all you want to do is create a file of facts and figures, then cancel the meeting and send in a report.
— Seth Godin

The purpose of a presentation is to sell your idea, says Seth Godin, a renowned marketer and presenter. In legal training, you must sell the idea that employees should be knowledgeable about certain areas of law. At times, this can be a difficult sale. Employees like to leave law to the lawyers. It's complex. It's difficult. It's boring. 

So how do we tip the scales in our favor?  

Corporate counsel can tip the scales on legal training by creating great PowerPoints that not only have great facts, but also utilize emotional proof (through engaging design) to resonate with your audience. 

So without further ado, here are the 5 essential rules for great PowerPoint presentations: 

1. Use the 10/20/30 rule

Famed Silicon Valley entrepreneur, Guy Kawasaki, uses the 10/20/30 rule to avoid "crap pitches".

Here's what the rule says:

10 Slides - Corporate counsel should be able to give a legal training presentation with a maximum of 10 slides. Kawasaki says this is important because most humans can't comprehend more than 10 new concepts in a meeting. This especially rings true when those are complex legal concepts. 

20 Minutes - Plan on getting through the 10 slides in 20 minutes (this will never happen). Okay, maybe you have an hour, or 45 minutes to give an antitrust law presentation. It's still important you stick to a limited amount of planned material to allow for questions, interruptions, etc. And, if you end early, congratulations! 

30 Point Font - 30 point font is big. For most corporate counsel, it's the biggest font they've ever used. Nevertheless, it's critical you use big fonts with limited amounts of text on your PowerPoint presentation. By doing this, you'll prevent the audience reading ahead of you on the slide (because there's nothing to read ahead), and not actually paying attention to what you're saying.

By using a huge font on limited slides with limited time, you'll force yourself to identify only the most important legal information for employees. 

2. No paragraphs

One of the key consequences of the 10/20/30 rule is that writing paragraphs of text on your slides is essentially impossible. That said, it bears repeating because of the potential harm block paragraphs have on your ability to connect with your audience. 

As I've previously stated, it's critical to elicit an emotional response from your audience. Nothing kills this faster than a giant block of text showing up in your slides. 

Remember, the PowerPoint is a presentation aide. It is not the presentation itself.

3. Use quality images

Quality Images.jpg

Well, if you're not going to use a bunch of text on your legal training presentation, what should you use?

Images. Big. Quality. Images... and white space (we'll get to that).

Don't ever use those cheesy ClipArt images in your legal training. I beg you.

If your goal is to stir your audiences' emotions, you need to use professional stock image photos that enhance the meaning of your spoken words. 

For example, if I'm talking about a decision that caused some terrible consequences for the company, is it more effective to use this ClipArt image?

Or this free professional stock photo image?

What is more emotionally moving? To me, it's not even close (the plane image). 

Check out Pixabay for free commercial-use photos to use with your legal training presentations.

4. No clutter

Even though images are important, they tend to add a lot of clutter to your presentation.

Okay, so what do I use if not images or text-heavy slides?

Use simple, elegant designs that incorporate a lot of white space.

What is white space? 

White space is a design concept which heavily incorporates negative space free of text, images or shapes to create a simple, elegant and rich feel. 

Here's an example from a free presentation template from Slides Carnival that does a phenomenal job incorporating white space:

You can get the whole presentation template here.

As you can see, this presentation does a wonderful job incorporating white space. You can use these types of design elements to enhance your audiences' experience during your legal training.

5. Don't hand out print copies of your presentation

This may be a sensitive subject among corporate counsel.

It's extremely common for attorneys to hand out copies of slides for CLEs, seminars, and legal training presentations. In fact, I don't remember the last CLE I attended where I didn't receive a copy of the slides. 

Even though it may go against everything you've known, try to resist the urge to hand out legal training slides. 

Think about it. Do you really want business people relying on your slides that don't give the full picture? Even when you're not around to explain? It sounds like a disaster waiting to happen. 

Instead, create a written document or memo to leave with the business people that summarizes the key concepts in your legal training presentation. 

NOTE: hand out the document at the end so people are listening to you instead of reading it.