I have trained a number of organisations that do not allow PowerPoint to be used for Board and Committee reports, on the grounds that the medium is unsuited to the task:

  • PowerPoint does not “self-present”, so some of the points (and nuances) that would be apparent if the author presented the slides, might be lost simply reading the Board paper. In a highly regulated business, this could constitute a governance risk;
  • Font sizes are often reduced in order to cram more words onto each slide, making the resulting document hard to read;
  • PowerPoint documents are, sometimes, recycled management presentations, and that’s unsuited for non-executive use, as the latter do not have the same, intimate understanding of the subject as their executive colleagues, making parts of the presentation too detailed and other areas obscure (that’s the “Curse of Knowledge” at work).

However, I have also trained organisations that do like the idea of PowerPoint and, used properly, it can be an effective component of a Board or Committee pack.

The golden rules to make PowerPoint work properly in Board and Committee papers are:

  1. Plan what you want to say, before you start typing. This is the most important rule whatever the medium, but in my experience it’s the one often overlooked. Individuals either cut and paste from previous documents, or else just start typing, cold – which is the slowest, least efficient way to write, known to man. Instead, use the well-known pyramid principle to order your thoughts, before you begin.
  2. If the subject matter of your document is complex, use one slide to explain and support each significant point you wish to make – multiple significant points per slide (with all their support, too) ends up making each slide too busy, and possibly confusing.
  3. Make the heading of each individual slide the central point you want to make, with the bullet points below adding support and detail. In that way, it’s impossible to miss the substance of your argument.
  4. Consider using visuals – charts, tables and diagrams – rather than text to communicate your arguments. PowerPoint excels at presenting visuals, but don’t fall into the trap of first explaining the visual used, then showing the visual itself, the explaining what’s important about the visual. That’s a common, repetitious error.

All that said, for most papers it’s hard to beat a crisp, well-written Word document. If you plan it carefully, it is as quick to draft as PowerPoint, takes up fewer pages, and is generally easier to read.

But whatever media you use, as always time is short and there’s much to do, so good luck and get cracking.