by Steve Adubato, PhD

Dr. Harold Paz, Dean of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of NJ--Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, is an excellent example of someone who uses PowerPoint technology to greatly enhance his presentation technique. This column has never been overly enamored with PowerPoint. Many people have come to believe that the core of their presentation, in fact their actual message, is in the PowerPoint itself. They become obsessed with the bells and whistles of the technology. They use way too many slides and they are totally lost if the technology breaks down.

Dr. Paz, an avid PowerPoint user, has a very different approach. In a recent presentation before a group of medical and healthcare professionals, Paz demonstrated some of the fine points of a PowerPoint presentation. Here were some of the highlights:

Dr. Paz's presentation was only 20 minutes, which he cut down from the 40 he originally planned. That's editing 50 percent of your content. It required cutting out a lot of slides which were near and dear to his heart, but were not appropriate given the busy conference agenda scheduled that day. The moral is, less is usually more.
There was very little information on each slide. For example, on a bold blue background, Dr. Paz attempted to communicate specific information regarding the number of medical students at his school. He used three bullet-pointed statistics. One was in red, one was in blue and the other in yellow. Each number stood out and was easy to follow.
On another individual slide where there was a significant amount of information, the doctor only went through certain points that were relevant for this particular audience in this specific setting. The key to remember is that you don't have to explain every piece of information on a slide.
Keep things moving. Paz didn't stay on any one slide too long. He didn't get bogged down in the minutia of his presentation. Rather, he kept his pacing without making his audience feel rushed. This approach also communicates the message that the presentation isn't going to last forever, which is usually our greatest fear.
The doctor also used a map to signify important pieces of information. This map had certain sections highlighted that helped him make his point about medical education. A map like this is much more effective than simply listing your information on a PowerPoint slide.
A picture can be worth a thousand words. When trying to explain that the medical school incorporated "small group classrooms," there was a picture of a class with a small group of students and a teacher leading the discussion. This picture is a much more effective tool than simply having a slide that says, "our school has a small number of students in each class."
Bar charts are big. When attempting to show that the school has taken in an increasing amount of grant dollars, a bar chart from 1992 to 2002 dramatically demonstrated this fact. Again, it is much more effective to visually see the contrast as opposed to having a slide that simply says, "our school has taken in X more dollars in grants in the past 10 years."
Finally, Dr. Paz showed a cover of "US News and World Report" highlighting the work of his medical school. Again, this is a perfect example of what PowerPoint can be. Saying it is one thing. Seeing it is another.

Bottom line? While PowerPoint is often overused and misused, when it is done right, it can add a great deal to any presentation. It's just too bad that a presentation like Dr. Paz's seems to be the exception. What do you think? Write to me.