Once upon a time presentations were made without PowerPoint.
Venerable public relations pros vaguely remember the ancient times when keyboards were essential parts of typewriters, facsimile machines were critical office equipment and people had conversations without pulling out their mobile phones to check Facebook or “tweet.”
The finest conference presenter I have ever seen used an easel and paper pad to get his points across. I took copious notes on everything he said, and I greatly appreciated the easel display because after talking to us he would pause and write key words and ideas on the paper.
As helpful as it was for note-taking its more significant impact was that it helped the audience absorb the information. Hear it and see it. Works better that way.
You might walk into a presentation today in which an easel and paper pad are used, but you are far more likely to get PowerPoint, an oft-used communications tool that seems to be losing its luster after all these years.
More and more people are dissing PowerPoint and questioning its value and impact. Those folks have their fingers pointed in the wrong direction. The problem is not with the PowerPoint tool. It is with the people who are using it.
Having sat through an inordinate number of numbing PowerPoint shows I have come to recognize common and almost universal problems and mistakes that almost all of the speakers made. So here’s my checklist on how not to use PowerPoint and some suggestions on how to make the the tool work for you:
• Jam as many words on the screen as you possibly can. Seems like many speakers simply write their presentation on the display. They show us complete sentences and entire paragraphs that mirror the words they are saying. Confine your display to key words, key ideas. Take a cue from the guy with the easel. You will greatly enhance understanding.
• Use inconsistent word or sentence structures. Switching from a noun-verb construct to a noun-only construct forces your viewers to figure out too much. An exclusively noun construct is best because it leads to reduction of words and forces a more careful appraisal of key words and messages.
• Choose a type size that enables you to challenge your audience’s eyesight and reading skills but allows you to deliver an even bigger payload of words and information.
• Display complex charts and graphs loaded with data that cannot be read by anyone seated more than three feet from the screen.
• Rely on “spellcheck” to do your proofreading. You’ve got a lot riding on the credibility of your presentation. Spelling errors destroy it. Be meticulous about proofing your content.
• Read the words on the screen. Perfect way to bring your presentation to a stultifying and awkward crescendo. Your best hope is that the audience reads along with you or watches your lips move. There is, of course, always the possibility they can read the words themselves while you provide related information.
• Turn your back on the audience and refer to the display as if it were the outline to your speech. Your notes should be on paper or on the computer screen in front of you.
• Play a five-minute video. It will run for a long, long time and force you to act extremely interested in a show you have seen a hundred times.
Fundamental to communication of any kind, including a PowerPoint presentation, is the need to put first in your thinking the receiver of that communication. Project yourself into your audience and reflect objectively on whether you would want to sit through your show. PowerPoint, and other communications tools, cannot work unless you do that.