In taking a quiet break from working on the PowerPoint presentation I’ll be using in my workshop at the New Communications Forum 2005 next week, I was reading the Financial Times online when I came to an article by FT columnist Jonathan Guthrie yesterday entitled Don’t be seduced by PowerPoint (paid subscription-only access).
Death by a thousand slides has become a feature of business events ranging from small presentations to speeches before large audiences. With 300 million users worldwide and counting, PowerPoint is too often a substitute for communication rather than an adjunct to it.
That best sums up what’s been going through my mind as I prepare the concise PPT I’ll be using next week – avoid such a situation at all costs by making sure the presentation is a simple guide to what I want the workshop to be about and focus on, with the PowerPoint’s content clear and concise in supporting overall communication that enables participants to easily understand why they’re there and what’s expected of everyone.
In other words, the presentation (inappropriate word, really) is a visual aid – a tool – to my being able to effectively communicate with my audience in a way that helps them understand everything I’m saying and showing, which will help them frame responses (questions or comments) that is the start of a dialog – two-way communication.
Guthrie comments on a book about public speaking called Lend Me Your Ears by Max Atkinson, a speaker and trainer who uses the findings of scientific research combined with the rules of classical rhetoric to highlight the secrets of successful persuasion:
[Atkinson] argues that templates and guidance built into PowerPoint encourage users to compile tedious lists instead of making sparing use of pictures and simple diagrams. Speakers should "approach PowerPoint with caution", cautions Prof Atkinson, as if warning against an escaped lunatic. He told me: "If you follow the model presentations in PowerPoint, you are almost guaranteed to give a bad presentation."
Then Guthrie adds some on-the-bullet comment (pun definitely intended) on some different thinking business people should employ when planning and using a PowerPoint:
Better still, if you must use slides, switch the projector off and the lights on after 10 minutes – tops. […] Use reversals of meaning, so your audience will ask what they can do for Allied Grommets, not what Allied Grommets can do for them. Deploy three-part lists to inform, intrigue and, um, inspire. Make a splash with imagery, your similes glittering like sunbeams reflected from the wavelets dancing in a Mediterranean harbour.
That last sentence paints a nice picture: you can almost see those sunbeams.
I then popped over to Beyond Bullets, Cliff Atkinson’s blog (I assume the same surnames must be purely coincidental!) – an excellent resource for everything you want to know about effective presentations and getting the most out of PowerPoint – and see a recent post by Cliff (Zen and the Art of PowerPoint) about imagery and metaphor and talking with passion.
This is how it all must be, I believe – present and talk concisely, persuasively and with passion. If not, you will lose your audience and become one of the ‘statistical PowerPoint failures’ Guthrie mentions in his FT article.
But if you’re passionate, you have every chance of really engaging with your audience and taking them along with you towards the point you want everyone to reach. They will see where they’re going.
Cliff’s concluding paragraph in his post sums this up perfectly:
[…] A classic book of the 1970s, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance told the story of a guy riding a motorcycle. By the end of the story, you realize it never was about the motorcycle after all, but the rider’s attitude toward life. Will there come a day when our presentations are not about bullet points, but our attitude toward our audiences, and ourselves? The day that happens, we will all be on a high-octane journey toward positive change.
(Cliff has written a book about using PowerPoint effectively called Beyond Bullet Points, to be published by Microsoft Press next month).
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