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10th January 2013

PowerPoint Public Offenders: How NOT to give a PowerPoint presentation.

Delivering a Talk

"I'm due to give a presentation... where's my laptop?" The most common reaction presenters have when they're asked to do a talk is to whip out the PowerPoint. But with 30 million PowerPoint presentations being created every day (or that's what Microsoft reckon), how do you make PowerPoint bring life to your presentation, rather than giving your audience the doomed "Death by PowerPoint"?

PowerPoint is used by many professionals so that they seem... well... professional, but you can seem more confident and refreshing if you DON'T use it. Let's investigate about the effect upon the audience of switching on the PowerPoint presentation - is it all that necessary?

The Case Against - Why not to use PowerPoint in your presentation

1. The Movie Effect

What happens is a movie dynamic - "Just watch the pretty lights", which causes the audience to settle back into their seats and become passive 'PowerPoint starers' rather than engaging in your presentation and its content.

The audience are that much more likely to switch off during a PowerPoint presentation, simply because the brain is so used to seeing PowerPoint presentations.

As soon as you do anything that's:

1) Normal to do in a presentation;
2) People expect to be (let's face it), not that interesting;
 

the brain switches into stereotyping mode and whispers to you "I've seen this before and I don't really need to listen". If that happens, then no matter how exciting or mission crucial your PowerPoint presentation might be, you're facing an uphill battle.

2. The "Aren't I Special Any More?" Effect

PowerPoint can also give an audience the feel of being "one of many" instead of having a speech suited and prepared just for them. In essence your audience is like a jury, watching your every move and deciding if you're Public Enemy Number One.

3. The Personality Substitute Effect

Presenters often use PowerPoint as a substitute for good public speaking. How many times have you seen a speak step aside in a presentation as if the PowerPoint is the real star of the show? It's like saying:

"I know you've all come here to hear me say something, but, boy do I have a treat for you. Let me introduce my special guest.... Mr PowerPoint!"

I doubt if your audience will be thrilled. Audiences are human beings, so they relate best to and learn best from other human beings. That means that if you step into the spotlight rather than always focusing on PowerPoint, you may well benefit your audience and your message more.

The Case For - When & how to use PowerPoint in your presentation

But let's not pretend that PowerPoint presentations have no benefits whatsoever. You might use PowerPoint under certain conditions, such as:

  • If you're presenting a great deal of technical information
  • If you have a very precise message.
  • If you have a large audience that need to see a visual aid
  • If there's a graphic that PowerPoint could show better than you could describe.

If you DO in fact decide to use a PowerPoint presentation, then avoid the following PowerPoint offenses:

PowerPoint presentation offense 1: Black and White or TOO busy

[caption id="attachment_3326" align="alignright" width="448"] A typical audience experience of bad PowerPoint presentations![/caption]

Being too sparse or too colorful in your PowerPoint design can significantly impact your audience. On the one hand you're in a desert, the other you stuck in a bad 70s disco. The first extreme leaves the audience dry with sparse images that create little lasting impact.

Minimalist can be good, but having nothing but dry bullet points from a template is a passive way to present information and is a heinous offense in the land of good PowerPoint presentations. Go too far to the other extreme and you'll be in handcuffs from crazed, overly colorful images flashing at your audience in a way that they get overwhelmed with the presentation and don't consume your message.

Either extreme, desert or disco, will find you in elocution lock up. If you want flashy Picasso inspired PowerPoint presentations, consider hiring a professional to design animation for you or stick to eye pleasing but not over-the-top images. Videos are also a good way to add interest without detracting attention.

PowerPoint presentation offense 2: The Grammar Police are out to get you!

A PowerPoint presentation with incomplete sentences, sloppy typos, and misspellings can have a drastic impact on your credibility as a speaker. Impressions are everything and nothing is surer to get you into fail jail than poor grammar and spelling. People watch for mistakes and instead of hearing your message the jury (audience) will vote GUILTY of incompetence if you're sloppy. Proofread and proofread and then proofread again. Seeing a mistake on your screen can also fluster you during your presentation, another offense we need to avoid. 

PowerPoint presentation offense 3: Font matters

Too small of a Typeface leaves the jury thinking "who can even read this stuff"? Too big and they feel like they're back in kindergarten. How you frame your words in a PowerPoint presentation matters a great deal. Also think about font and background colors; gray is difficult to read and red can be construed as alarming.

PowerPoint presentation offense 4: You talkin' to me?

Having graphics and bullet points (hence the power-point) in your PowerPoint presentation is a great way to provide data to your audience. Refer to the slides but keep looking at your audience. Staring and reading things word for word is another passive way to communicate. The audience likes you, they want to engage with you, they want to see you and see your eyes and be acknowledged by you. The words on the screen are for them to read and you to use as a reference.

If you avoid these PowerPoint offenses and utilize your authenticity, the jury will always rule in your favor.

 

 

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