I use PowerPoint. I use it sparingly. People do not want to listen to someone narrate slides rich in text and details. People want to be engaged by a speaker’s words, charisma and delivery style. If I can make the complex, simple, I use PowerPoint. If I can make the theoretical, empirical, I use PowerPoint. If I can save a thousand words by sharing a picture, I use PowerPoint. The simple can have more impact than the complex. The PowerPoint Myth: PowerPoint enhances any presentation.
Many years ago, people brought a prop to a presentation to illustrate a point. Soon we were showing overhead transparencies in a darkened room. They were standard tools of the trade until PowerPoint was introduced–every presenter’s dream technology.
The purpose of PowerPoint—as with similar technology—is to simplify, clarify or render your point for the benefit of your listener. You could deliver a ten minute presentation about how car engines work and, until you project a cartoon graphic on the screen, it was difficult to conceptualize. Thank goodness for technology that illustrates concepts that previously were drawn on a chalkboard, flipchart, or distributed in a sea of handouts. But then we got greedy.
Too Much of a Good Thing
The occasional need to present a slide when speaking became a slide presentation with the occasional need to speak. People grew dependent on the convenience of hitting a button and having their presentation projected on the ten foot screen. Why memorize anything or have command of your material when your information is in plain view? People use PowerPoint not only as a spice, but it’s become the food itself. It’s more than a crutch; it’s the means of transportation.
Roger Ailes, President and COO of Newscorp, wrote a wonderful book entitled You Are the Message. He believes your words, tone and body language become part of your entire communication repertoire. The moment you turn your back to your audience and search your PowerPoint slides for guidance, you are a narrator and no longer a presenter.
According to Aristotle in his Art of Rhetoric, communication is achieved with ethos, pathos, and logos—the speaker’s ability to appeal to his listener(s) by establishing character, and creating emotion in the context of a logical presentation. This can be achieved with the help of PowerPoint, not because of it. Use your personal style and character, not software special effects.
I have coached scores of executives who want to ensure that their years of hard work are reflected when they stand before their piers. Many ask me how to begin a speech with a joke, be funny or use a combination of notes and slides. I share the same advice each time: establish your purpose, flesh out your ideas and rehearse—and, of course, be yourself. People try to compensate for poor communication skills with PowerPoint’s sound, motion, and color.
Sound, Motion, Color
These are wonderful additions to most presentations as long as they are used intermittently. Studies tell us that color accelerates learning, retention and recall up to 78%. It can be beneficial to reveal a pie chart or a graph. Maybe your sentences “dissolve” away or sub-points appear in alternating colors—but use a balanced approach. Think of these attributes as pillars to a building: properly spaced and you’re safe; too many too close together and it creates clutter.
I recently witnessed a presenter relegated to the back of a darkened room narrating a 50-slide PowerPoint presentation. There were sound clips that accompanied animation in slides, so when information was revealed, we heard breaking glass, a bullwhip, and a cash register’s ka-ching. This is mildly entertaining if your audience is in the fourth grade. You will never compensate for a “thin” presentation with PowerPoint’s bells and whistles.
Kennedy and King moved millions with their words and delivery. Aristotle would have applauded “let them come to Berlin!” and “I have a dream today!” Aside of the audience size and length of presentation, we have similar opportunities to impress any audience provided we don’t become a slave to the wires, remotes, and delicate laser bulbs of today’s technology. The tail should not wag the dog.
Determine how you can accomplish your task with the spoken word in place of words on a slide, and you will identify the expendable slides. Thin the slide show and you will have a dynamic presentation free from PowerPoint baggage, shining with personality—yours.
Ken Lodi is a professional speaker, author and consultant to Fortune 100 companies and a coach to executives on the topics of communication. He is the author of Front & Center, Tapping Potential and The 4 ACES™ of Communication. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 323-932-1026.