Now that we are about two years into the presentation revolution to transform text-laden PowerPoint slides into visually effective slides, it is time to take a checkpoint. My official revolution result-o-meter
shows an improved awareness of the need to reduce text on slides, but insufficient direction and expertise on how to reach the goal.
The goal of this revolution is to enable all presenters to create "An effective presentation that includes PowerPoint slides when appropriate". The focus is on seeing the presentation as a whole, with PowerPoint as the effective visual aid.
Many presenters realize the need to get away from reading slides to an audience and are attempting to improve the situation. When critiquing presentations, I see a range of attempted improvements, including the act of haphazardly inserting irrelevant photos or clip art, simply eliminating 50% of the text on slides, and organizational policies that limit the number of slides in a presentation, irrespective of the presentation. These attempts at improvement have mixed results.
I hear presenters lament their frustration at the time investment required to create effective slide presentations and search for appropriate photos. It takes time and commitment to create a good PowerPoint presentation and I find presenters getting drowned in the details of aesthetics for each slide while losing sight of the purpose of the presentation. It also takes more rehearsal to effectively present from text-light slides because the presenter is not simply reading to the audience. Lazy presenters push back on the need for more rehearsal and I have no sympathy for such laziness. Presenters should be willing to invest some time in rehearsal before taking the stage.
Here is what I have seen over the past year and the gaps that I see still need to be addressed as we continue supporting the revolution for visually effective slides.Firstly
, too many presenters simply duplicate a document onto the slide. One client put the complete workbook from a full-day workshop onto his slides. No wonder he complained that his workshop audiences are in snoozeville by 10 AM. I also see Excel worksheets on slides, usually demonstrating the details of the prior quarter's earnings, losses or some other mind-numbing statistics.Secondly
, not enough presenters rehearse. Many presenters don't run through the presentation at least once. I cringe when I critique a presentation and hear the speaker say "I realize that we are coming up to time here, and I still have 20 slides to discuss. Take it as your homework and let me know if there are any questions". A single rehearsal with an eye on the clock will reveal at least 60% of the problems that a presenter can expect during the presentation.Thirdly
, in our attempt to correct the initial problem and get away from text laden slides, I see some presenters have created a new problem which I term "Let's worship my slides together". Some slide presentations are works of art. Clear, high resolution, well balanced photos meticulously assembled into a stunning display of artistic creativity. In fact, the presenter is often so impressed with the slide show that he constantly points to the slides almost if he is worshipping the slides. "Let's worship my slides together" problem obfuscates the real reason for the presentation in the first place, which is to communicate a message to your audience.
The reasons we see these presenters make these mistakes are:1. Lack of training.
Presenters don't have a process to follow to craft a presentation. One process which presenters can follow is laid out in my book "Dodging the Bullet Points
", and there are other repeatable processes as well. Without a repeatable process, presenters feel pressure to display PowerPoint slides even if there is no benefit to having slides, and follow haphazard approaches that result in data-dumps.2. Lack of exemplars.
Presenters have so few examples of good presentations to observe and learn from. As audiences we have endured so many poor PowerPoint presentations that most people have come to expect text-laden slides as the norm. The general population has been trained to quietly submit to boring presentations like Pavlovian dogs. When the lights get dimmed, a boring presenter takes the stage and in the audience we settle in for a quiet nap.
3. The significant time investment required
to create an effective PowerPoint presentation. Clients complain at the difficulty and expense of finding and selecting high resolution photos. It is much faster to just type text into PowerPoint and show it on a projector. For example, if you are a mid-level manager and will make a fifteen minute presentation to your peers at a company event, are you willing to invest up to twenty hours into searching and selecting the perfect photos, and then rehearsing? Other mid-level managers presenting on such an agenda are likely to use text-laden slides and in this case, I would advise this mid-level manager to consider not using PowerPoint at all. This presenter is better served by investing ten hours creating and rehearsing a compelling speech than creating a half-baked visual presentation, because she will stand out as being the best presenter on this agenda.
If I had a magic wand - appropriately named the "Pow'Rful
Wand" - I would wave it to achieve the following Pow'Rful
Results for all presenters. I would train presenters and audiences to ask more effective questions. Our presentations will improve when we ask better questions.
This is my wish list for all presenters.Wish #1.
Follow a repeatable process when you create a presentation. Do not start off your creative process by opening PowerPoint and selecting "Click here to insert text". You are already going in the wrong direction if you start creating your presentation by opening PowerPoint.
Here are the correct steps to follow when creating a presentation that includes PowerPoint.
a. Ask yourself these question, and write down the answers to keep you on track while crafting your presentation "What am I trying to achieve in this presentation?" "How do I want my audience to think or act differently as a result of my presentation"?
b. Once you have your goal written down, you can select points and supporting details that meet your goals.
c. Build your speech around your answers and finally build a PowerPoint slide show to drive home the points in your speech that benefit from visual aids.
d. Rehearse your presentation and you are ready to go.Wish #2
. Structure your presentation. Have an opening, body and conclusion to your presentation. Do not aimlessly present facts and end with a slide that says "Thank you" or "Q&A". Create an interesting opening, discuss your points in the body of your speech, take questions, and then end your presentation on time with a well-rehearsed and polished closing, which may include a call to action.Wish #3.
Use PowerPoint only when appropriate. We have come to expect PowerPoint slides in every presentation, whether needed or not. When purchasing a Bic Mac, I half-expect the server to say "Do you want a slide deck with that?".
Contrary to popular belief, most presentations do not require PowerPoint. The value of PowerPoint is in the visual display of information. If your message will be clearer by using a visual display of information, then use PowerPoint. For example, if you are pointing out the lights on the Eiffel Tower then PowerPoint is appropriate. If you are discussing the impact of standardized cubicles on employee morale, then a personal or anecdotal story is more suitable than a PowerPoint slide.Wish #4
. Rehearse. Time your presentation and adjust accordingly. I am currently working with a client who refuses to time his rehearsal. We are working together as he prepares for a 2o minute presentation and have whittled down his slide deck to 67 slides. After each marathon rehearsal I ask "How long do you think that took?" His answer "About 10 minutes". My "Pow'Rful
Wand" will magically force every presenter to rehearse his or her presentation at least once, and record the time that elapsed during the presentation.Wish #5
. Record every presentation, to see what your audience sees. Use a camcorder and watch yourself present. I once saw on a recording that I blocked the view of an important slide while making a point in my presentation. I was oblivious to the fact and the audience did not point it out to me. The video tape doesn't lie and I learned to not block my audience's view in future presentations.Wish #6
. Join a Toastmasters club. Take advantage of the opportunity to gain inexpensive skills in public speaking.Wish #7
. Invent a revolutionary way to search photographs and reduce the amount of time it takes to select the right photo that is just perfect for my slide.
Are we there yet? Not yet. We are making good progress and as more and more presenters take the slide to set the example demonstrating the benefits of the visual revolution, the higher we will raise awareness. Awareness is the first step towards making the changes that we want to see in all presentations that use PowerPoint. Every presenter who takes just an hour to answer the questions listed above will be a dramatically better presenter.
As a community of concerned presenters, I believe that the visual revolution is benefiting audiences all over the world. Many blogs, books and articles are now available for presenters to learn from and people are asking "Isn't there a better way to use PowerPoint". We have not yet reached the tipping point, but we are definitely headed in the right direction now. And I am proud to be a supporter of this revolution towards visually effective PowerPoint slides.