Sunday, January 21, 2007

People should need a licence to use PowerPoint

I do a lot of voluntary work in my local community and as a result I attend a lot of "presentations" and "workshops" presented by senior executives in public, private and voluntary sector organisations and there seems to be common feature with the presenters. They all use PowerPoint but have never learned how to use PowerPoint.

Most of these senior executives spend a great deal of their time communicating with a variety of stakeholders and community representatives, yet seem never to have spent a much time learning how to communicate. Having looked a number of job specifications for these senior posts however I can confirm that in every case "Excellent communication skills" is there as an essential requirement. I think the problem is that the interviewers for these posts are not good communicators so they set the bar of "excellence" very low.

Let me give you an example of how bad it gets. This is the wording on the first slide of a workshop I attended last week. (I have changed the names and departments to avoid adding further embarrassment)

Some Introductions
  • My name is John Smith, a senior officer with the City Council's Important Developments Department. I will give a short presentation.
  • This is my colleague James Brown who will help with any questions you may have and with the workshop that will follow the presentation.
  • You have probably met Jenny Jones and Peter Green of the Voluntary Council who are here to assist us all.
If he had actually understood PowerPoint I am sure he would have used Motion Path Animation to create a little black ball to bounce along the words as he spoke so that we could all join in :)

Inevitably the presentation was difficult to follow - because we were all trying to follow 33 slides packed with words and half way through I started asking questions and the meeting finally came to life. Unfortunately after a long and very interesting question and answer session they insisted on finishing the slides.

When I ask people why they use slides the most common answer is "I want to make sure I cover everything - and with out the slides I may forget". My response is "If you are having a problem remembering what to say, it's likely that the audience is going to have more trouble trying to remember it."

I think most presenters would be better off simply setting the scene and letting people ask questions - at least that way the audience get to hear what they came for. There is no justification whatsoever for slides full of bullet points - they destroy the presentation, make the presenter sound stilted, undermine any chance of building rapport and finally they make lousy handouts. So often the PowerPoint slides are the speakers notes or even worse their script and the speaker becomes the narrator to a boring slide presentation

Here is my advice.
  1. Write down your speech objective and how you will measure that it has been successfully achieved.
  2. Write your speech (and I don't mean write it out - I mean write your notes and structure - see my PEPP Talk recommendations for that)
  3. Add in a couple of questions to ask the audience to get them into the habit if interacting.
  4. Ask yourself - How would slides help this presentation? Be honest and then IF they are necessary, make sure you produce a professional looking presentation (hint - it takes time)
  5. Create a useful standalone handout that helps you to achieve your speech objective
When I use PowerPoint the slide presentation takes me days to produce - sometimes weeks - There are few words and few slides and I switch off the slides (press B on the keyboard) when I don't need them. I invested a lot of time in learning how to use PowerPoint and make my slides part of a performance - not my notes. Most importantly the slides are there to support me and help me to communicate my message (one message) more effectively.

Rikki Arundel
Motivational Speaker
Speaking and Marketing Tips
The GenderShift Blog

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