Separating the PowerPoint from the Presentation

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In the past few weeks I've been sitting in on a number of presentations.  While we continue to try and improve the quality and effectiveness of presentations worldwide (go big or go home, right?), I still stand by the idea that 99% of presentations suck.  Not so much the content, but the design and delivery.  The slides were so bad that I found myself looking away from the slide, perhaps out the window, and listening intently to what they were talking about.  I found it easier to focus on the content when I wasn't being startled by noisy slides like this one:

Noisy Ineffective Slide
(Seriously, can you tell me what's going on here?)

As each of the presentations ended, I realized a few truths:

  1. Attempting to convey all of your information by dumping all of it in text form on your slides will destroy your presentation
    Of course, this is a truth I already knew.  If this information is listed in bullet point format, you've pretty much broken the first commandment effective presenting.  If you are unsure why "Thou Shalt Not Use Bullet Points" is the first commandment, read this post.  It was painful to look at and if I even spent a few seconds reading the bullet points, those were a few seconds wasted because I missed what the presenter was saying.  So I wondered, would this presenter be better off without using any slides?  Since I left the presentation with some information, I was led to the second truth.
  2. You can convey your message and teach your audience without the aid of visuals.
    (a.k.a Your slides are NOT your presentation) Even though most of the
    slides were so unbearable that I spent most of my time looking
    elsewhere, I still took away valuable information.  As a presenter YOU
    are the star.  The most important information should be coming out of
    your mouth.  But like the television trumped radio, and iChat is way cooler than using a cell phone, can't a message be enhanced by using visuals?
  3. Since a presentation can exist without visuals, utilizing visuals (like PowerPoint slides) to serve as a visual backdrop will enhance your presentation. 
    A knowledgeable presenter understands that they aren't a complement to their slides.  On the contrary, the slides are a compliment to the presenter!  So often I speak with clients who are so concerned about "getting the information onto the slides."  That shouldn't even be a concern.  Their concern should be that all of the information is in their head so they can present it clearly and effectively.  If they depend on their slides to act as a script, they've already failed.  

So many presenters look at PowerPoint and Keynote and see a "presentation."  Accordingly, they ensure that all the necessary information is poured into these mediums.  As a society of presenters, we've got to change the way we look at PowerPoint and Keynote.  They're not the "presentation," they're simply tools. 


Now that we're clear, use your visuals to your advantage.  Talking about global warming?  Don't list boring statistics.  Show a polar bear stuck on a sheet of ice.  Trying to get some investors for your new yoga school?  Don't bore them with text.  Instead, try a slide like this (featured in my eBook)


By the way, over 11,000 results come up when searching for "global warming" on iStockPhoto.  Yoga?  Over 10,000.

Let's collectively take a step back from our slide software and say it together, "My slides are my backdrop, and I am the presentation.  I will use my slides for good, to engage viewers and amplify my message.  My audience members should read less and listen more."  (I could go on and on)

What other mantra's should presenters use?  I'd love to hear your feedback.

If you'd like to read more about separating the PowerPoint from the Presentation, Bert Decker wrote a great post recently entitled "But PowerPoints are NOT Your Presentation."  I highly recommend.

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