Is PowerPoint the Rocket Fuel for a New MBA Grad's Career?

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New MBA grads can impress executives as they start their careers, even against peers with 5 or 10 years experience, if they learn to wield PowerPoint more effectively. That's the career advice of Bruce R. Gabrielle, a corporate trainer and author of Speaking PowerPoint: The New Language of Business.

The quality bar is so low, it's easy for an MBA grad to stand out with executives if they wield PowerPoint correctly.

150,000 business school graduates in the U.S. alone will start their new careers this summer. But how does a freshly-minted MBA stand out among peers with 5 or 10 years experience?

The answer may be learning how to wield PowerPoint more effectively.

Despite the criticism aimed at PowerPoint, it might actually be the easiest way for new grads to shine. That's the advice of Bruce Gabrielle, author of Speaking PowerPoint: The New Language of Business and a corporate trainer on presenting to executives.

Most business managers admit the bar is very low on PowerPoint, says Gabrielle. "But it's actually an opportunity! If your PowerPoint slides are clearer and more professional-looking than others', you can stand out even among peers with 5 or 10 years experience."

He may be onto something. Gabrielle recalls one MBA intern who showed Microsoft executives they may be ignoring an important customer segment. His PowerPoint slides included a slick-looking bubble chart, identifying and naming each customer segment. After that presentation, there was heated discussion about which segments Microsoft should target and executives re-used his slides and terminology. "Of course, that intern was offered a full-time job at Microsoft when he graduated."

Gabrielle suggests new grads adopt these five principles for developing PowerPoint slides, which even experienced managers fail to do.

1. Start your presentation by answering the exec's question. Many presenters, even experienced managers, re-enact their analysis for executives and leave their conclusions until the end. Instead, new grads should anticipate the most important question the executive has and answer that question in the first five minutes.

2. Don't lead with anything controversial. Even in the hard-headed show-me-the-numbers business world, brain science proves decisions are primarily emotional, not logical. So don't begin your presentation with something controversial, which invites debate and disagreement. Instead, lead with the most emotionally positive and relevant information, like customer quotes or examples of your competitor's advertising.

3. Write your slide title out as a full sentence. Research by Penn State University found audiences understood and remembered, on average, 15% more of a speaker's talk when the slide title was a full sentence rather than just a 2-4 word phrase. Notes Gabrielle, "How many slides do you see every day that could be improved with that one simple change?"

4. Limit your slide to 3-4 bullet points. Some presentation experts discourage using text on slides, but Gabrielle says that advice is wrong. "That may work in a keynote address or motivational speech. But in business, the audience wants to see your text, not stock photography." Studies by Blokzijl & Andeweg in 2004, and repeated in 2006, prove business audiences learn more from text slides than from picture slides or no slides at all.

5. Use the alignment tools for more professional-looking slides. Says Gabrielle, "alignment is the easiest thing you can do to make your slides look more polished and professional." He includes a how-to video on his website, demonstrating how to use the alignment tools.

Speaking PowerPoint: The New Language of Business is intended for new and experienced business managers who want to use PowerPoint more effectively at work, and especially in executive presentations.

Gabrielle now leads corporate training programs, teaching business managers and consultants the research-based principles he discusses in his book.

"We're still in the dark ages when it comes to PowerPoint," says Gabrielle, "But there is a growing body of research which shows us how to use PowerPoint effectively in business, in sales and in education. It's an important area that business schools need to teach."

Speaking PowerPoint: The New Language of Business (ISBN: 978-0984236046). Author: Bruce R. Gabrielle. Publisher: Insights Publishing. Available from Amazon.com or in bulk from Insights Publishing.

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