Lose the Crutch!
PowerPoint - leaned on by too many in the business world
Are you one of those maimed presenters hobbling along depending on your slides to carry your message instead of doing the work yourself? The typical PowerPoint slide deck we suffer through today creates barriers between you, your message, and your audience. Those barriers then get in the way of audience understanding. And the goal of communication is to reach understanding, is it not? Then why is it that we can’t seem to present to a room full of people and deliver a message mano-a-mano? It’s time to reexamine the use of PowerPoint and give it a back seat to message understanding and audience benefit.
But you’re a consultant, so you say: ”We can’t tell our clients how to improve their businesses without PowerPoint. How can we justify the time and money they spend if we don’t dazzle them with charts and graphs and catchy buzzwords?” Or you’re an investment banker, and you think you won’t be taken seriously without a deck that can double as a pair of dumbbells for a serious bicep curl or two once the presentation is over. And lest you brand managers think you can escape my fury — think again. Your decks are prettier than most, but you, too, hide behind them, reading slide after slide and not revealing the point of your presentation until the very end, as if the element of surprise is worth waiting for. It’s not. Your audience wants to know what you’ll be talking about and why they should listen. And they want to know early.
How do you know whether to count yourself among the maimed and hobbling? I’ve compiled a telltale list of clues in my six years of teaching and coaching people to become effective communicators (to say nothing of sitting through hundreds of presentations over the span of my 25+ year career).
The first clue is “slidenosis,” a condition clearly detectable in your listeners’ faces and behavior. Slidenosis is a state of unconscious compliance that occurs while staring at a series of slides containing disparate messages, slide after slide after precious slide, as they begin to wonder, “What am I looking at and why am I here?” In short, your audience members stare at you, their watch, their Blackberry, their watch, the slide, their watch.
A second clue lies in you, and your purpose in creating the PowerPoint. Who are you designing your slides for? If you think the visuals are there for your use, change your thinking. Now. Visuals should be designed to help audience members understand and retain information from your presentation, not to help you remember your own material. Your audience deserves better than that. You should know your material so well that if the LCD projector bulb blew in the midst of your presentation, you could still make all your key points.
The final clue lies in the slide design. Are your slides filled with text ad nauseam, text that actually closely resembles the words you are speaking? Crutch! How about diagrams — are there more things flying around your slides than outside of Atlanta Hartsfield Airport? Crutch! When asked a question, do you respond with something like, “I’ll get to that on slide 24”? Crutch, crutch, crutch! If you want to watch a humorous and comprehensive presentation of PowerPoint blunders, check out Don McMillan’s Life After Death by PowerPoint (youtu.be/lpvgfmEU2Ck).
Am I suggesting you lay off of PowerPoint completely? Of course not, just wean yourself from using PowerPoint as a crutch. If you want to deliver a clear message to your audience, consider doing your presentation planning sans PowerPoint. Ask yourself a couple of questions before you power up:
- What is the purpose of my presentation?
- How will my audience members benefit from my message?
Once you are clear about your message and you know how your audience will benefit from hearing you, decide whether the use of visuals will help your listeners understand your message. To answer this question, try the Triple E test for the use of visuals. If a slide can enhance, explain, or entertain, it has a reason to exist. Otherwise, it’s a crutch for you and won’t benefit your audience.