Houston Business Journal, vol 3 no. 3, week of May 26 – June 1, 2006
PowerPoint, for many business presenters, has gone from useful tool to crippling crutch, actually becoming a deficit instead of an asset.
The trouble is not PowerPoint itself, but the fact that most people overuse it to the extent that they do not engage their audience and are not even minimally persuasive. Those that believe that PowerPoint is their presentation, and that after creating the slides all that’s left to be done is to run the program and let it sell (or not sell) potential customers, are missing a powerful point (near-pun intended).
The real presentation consists of the presenter, the presenter’s ideas and the presenter’s unique experience – not the slides. The audience can read the slides by themselves, but the presenter is something they can’t get from the projector. If the presenter’s back is all they see the majority of the time, and if everyone gets bogged down in endless lists of bullet points, there’s little room for true connection and communication to happen.
Those who feel they can benefit by taming PowerPoint can restore this program to its rightful place – as a valuable tool, yes, but not the star of the show – by following a few suggestions:
- Adapt a PowerPoint presentation to the way people think. The human mind needs “white space” to absorb and digest information, so limit slides to a maximum of ten images per main speaker.
- Reduce word overload by moving text off-screen and narrating the content or ideas by voice.
- Write one headline per slide explaining the main idea. Remove any other content that does not relate to the idea.
- On each slide, add a visual image that relates to the point.
- Practice the presentation aloud several times so that ideas flow from the brain out of the mouth. Speaking thoughts is different than thinking about ideas.
- Make 70 percent of the contact with the audience, and only 30 percent with the screen and notes.
- If the presenter needs to focus his attention on a slide, he should step out and join the audience, looking at the slide with them from their perspective.
- Don’t make the audience read lots of words on slides. They won’t be able to process that much new information – and word overload says the presenter hasn’t digested the information himself.
- Don’t face away from the audience and talk to the slides.
- Don’t read off a list of bullet points.
- Don’t start the presentation preparation by typing rough notes into the PowerPoint program. Refine key ideas before making slides. Any extra time is better spent practicing the delivery.
A presenter stands a much better chance of winning his pitch by polishing his speaking skills, learning how to be persuasive and honing the ability to capture and hold the attention of an audience without the crutch of PowerPoint.
The most effective way to be persuasive and interesting is to tell stories that illustrate points. Stories will connect the presenter with listeners, compel them to pay attention and allow them to feel the message.
In short, stories sell. The more technical the presentation content, the more stories are needed to sell the ideas.
In the end, a presentation is all about persuasion, and persuasion happens only when people stop wondering what the presenter is going to take from them and start to open themselves to what the presenter can potentially offer them.
No software program has yet been invented that is more persuasive than a real live person.
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