How To Avoid Death By PowerPoint
In modern business, if there’s a presentation, there’s a PowerPoint with it. (Or, one of the programs that resemble it.) It’s almost as if we’ve forgotten how to present without one. Unfortunately, this has led to a lot of dull, rote presentations – as well as felony-level PowerPoint abuse. As David Ogilvy famously quipped, “most people use PowerPoint like a drunk uses a lamppost – for support rather than for illumination.”
The victims? Those of us in the audience. Presenters put too much information on slides, distract their audiences with bad clip art and tiny font, and read directly from their own presentations instead of conversing with stories and ideas.
For presenters who want to be distinctive, the tide has definitely turned back. Old school is once again new. It can be fresh to deliver without a PowerPoint at all. It’s akin to getting a handwritten thank you card rather than a cursory email – it feels special.
We may not have a choice about whether to use slides. However, when there is an option, get creative. How could you deliver without a PowerPoint, or use it in a very limited or unusual way? If you want you – and your message – to stand out, challenge yourself to try some of these ideas.
Mix up your media.
We all learn in different ways, so mix up the media and engage your audience through various senses. See how you can illustrate your points through photos, music, demos, and videos. It can even be helpful to provide something tangible for your audience to hold in their hands. I once saw a speaker pass around a watch his grandfather had made to illustrate the diversity of entrepreneurship in our society.
There’s also the option of incorporating social media into a presentation. Some studies claim that posting during a presentation increases engagement from the audience.
If you’re giving a formal presentation, prepare a title slide with your contact information on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn so people can add you to their networks while they wait for your presentation to begin. Also create a hashtag for your presentation, and make some key phrases on your slides tweetable (140 characters or less).
Send content ahead of time.
If it’s possible to do so, have people come ready to discuss your content rather than listen to a presentation.
Assign light reading or a fun activity to create audience engagement before you even meet. Perhaps you can define terminology or complex ideas before presentation day, so you don’t have to spend time clarifying basic ideas and can discuss higher level topics during your talk.
On your presentation materials that you send ahead of time, include your talk’s hashtag so people can start discussing your talk before presentation day arrives, and throw questions your way. Get people thinking and talking before you say your first word.
Intersperse content with discussion, group exercises, and reflection time.
Research suggests that the human attention span is getting shorter – and now may be as little as five minutes. If you want to keep people invested, creating audience engagement is crucial. Most presentations resemble monologues, and gradually numb an audience to what you’re trying to say. An interactive presentation is an engaging one, so ask questions (perhaps using polling technology) and design group exercises that get people talking.
Just make sure the audience participation makes sense. “Plan your presentation first and then look to see where it would be valuable to have the audience contribute,” says presentation trainer, Olivia Mitchell. “Look for situations where people can add real value. Audience participation should never be just for the sake of it – people will see right through this and turn-off.”
One of my favorite tips is to incorporate reflection time. Providing silence is a gift that busy professionals rarely get. Have audience members simply think about a concept for a bit, or spend more time with a longer strategy question.
Give (brief) handouts.
Handouts have gotten a bad rap, especially compared to nifty graphics. But if you need people to follow along and don’t want to use PowerPoint, handouts can be your friend. Plus, people love knowing they don’t have to take full notes and can simply listen.
There are some key strategies to adopt when using handouts, however. Don’t overload your handouts with information – only include the most crucial ideas that you want your audience to take away from your presentation. For note-taking purposes, allow a good amount of whitespace. Include important graphics, charts, and images, as most people tend to be visually oriented.
Finally, consider saving the handouts for distribution at the end. For some talks, if the audience just knows they’ll get them, it’s enough to have them relax and listen to you.
Use eye-catching software.
According to research, 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual. In addition, visuals are processed 60,000 times faster in the brain than text. That means that your presentations need to be visually captivating.
If you like organizing your presentation in PowerPoint, but feel like it’s not creating the eye-catching effect you desire, it’s worth checking out new presentation software that maximizes the visual experience.
Prezi is a cloud-based presentation software that jettisons the typical linear, slide-based approach to presenting. Instead, Prezi supports a more natural flow of ideas. It’s highly visual, in a unique way, so it’s different than the normal presentation by its very design.
The ideas you want to convey may best be presented by the power of your storytelling alone – supported by a prop or two.
I mentioned the watch example above. Presentation expert Carmine Gallo mentions one TED talk in which a 37-year-old Harvard brain scientist, who had suffered a life altering stroke, donned latex gloves and used a real human brain to demonstrate what happened to her.
Using props may not be the most effective or relevant approach for all circumstances, but this example shows that sometimes using a physical object can be more impactful than any computer slide.
Have some ideas to share? Comment here or @kristihedges.
Kristi Hedges is a leadership coach, speaker and author of The Power of Presence: Unlock Your Potential to Influence and Engage Others. She blogs at kristihedges.com.
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