Overcoming the PowerPoint problem
Recently, at the end of Presentation Skills training, a participant asked “Can you train all of our management?”
So what’s the problem?
The overkill of PowerPoint!
Presenters have been reduced to PowerPoint operators since its launch in 1990 with Windows 3.0. “Presentation” has become synonymous with “slideshow”.
Instead we need to be orators – people who speak freely, engagingly and informedly rather than robotically.
The slippery slope with slides, as we discussed at length in the aforementioned training, is that – be it for a Sales Review or Department Update – we reach for slide software rather than creatively considering how to communicate key messages. We populate PowerPoint with facts, figures, tables and comments, spending hours on “Whizz Bang!” animation …when in fact we want conversation.
The problem is that we’ve confused presentations with presenters
Many present a slide show, achieving 10/10 for “Death by PowerPoint.” At Presentation Skills training we might learn the limitations of slides but wouldn’t dare ask management to set the same example. In fact many managers may remember Presentation Skills training focusing on PowerPoint.
So what do we need to know and how do we tackle the issue?
1. How PowerPoint inhibits presentation skills:
- Whilst audiences are sent asleep by slides, as presenters we’re losing the art of communication through over-use of this crutch.
- Copious content displaces meaningful messages. It seems as though we can’t resist the temptation to add more, rather than staying succinct.
- Excessive time invested in formatting and animating would be better spent on reason, rationale and something remarkable to steer our audience.
- Despite more information being disseminated, audiences are less engaged.
- The distraction of slides devalues our delivery. When the audience can read for themselves it mostly renders the presenter redundant.
2. How do we instigate side-stepping of slides?
- We need presenters, not presentations. Terminology such as “Are you ready to present?” rather than “Is your presentation ready” is a subtle shift away from slide software.
- Curbing slides in a controlled fashion makes the transition easier. Stating when slides shouldn’t apply e.g. Monthly sales reviews, is easily understood.
- To polish presentation skills, we need appropriate training and frequent practice via real “to audience” opportunities.
- Making interaction an expectation encourages us to create original, engaging delivery. Stopping the normal “sit back and listen” and having audiences arriving anticipating some activity is key to kick-starting a shift.
- It goes without saying that it cascades faster from the top. If senior managers can do it, more staff will try it.
So are slides all bad?
No, in perspective, slides help by facilitating:
- An easy way to offer supporting visuals
- Sharing information as an alternative to a block of text
- Integration of other media e.g. video, online
- A backdrop at a large venue
But they’re not the whole answer nor a substitute for speaking engagingly. They’ve made us lazy.
Why not just learn how to use PowerPoint properly?
Not all PowerPoint presenters fail to engage or switch us off while supported by slides – just most of them! As audiences, when unable to offer more than a nod, a smile, an occasional “put your hand up if” or a question at the end, we’re passive. When passive our ability to recall is lower as we relate less to the content.
But when we’re active we play a part, we remember well what the presenter “did to us” and how they “made us feel.” Frequently speakers or presenters just aren’t at all memorable. But we remember the memorable presenters – and not their slides.
Giving only “guidelines” for reducing PowerPoint are unlikely to succeed in the way a “ban” – even temporary – will. Paring it back only lasts a little while before breeding begins again and families of slideshows pop up indiscriminately in meeting rooms everywhere. People find get-arounds and compromises when boundaries are blurry.
Slides often confuse us or prove more dynamic than our presenting. Meanwhile meetings seem meshed with slideshows. To stop presentation standards from slipping further we want to get back to basics.
..In Part 2 we’ll talk “The Benefits of Side-Stepping Slides” and “How to Help Presenters Learn to Go Slide Free.”
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