PowerPoint Is Not Your Friend
Over the years I have seen people trying and failing to utilise Microsoft PowerPoint (or any presentation programme) to mitigate, complement, or enhance their presentation. The experience seems consistent across my ventures in the academia, the workplace, as well as within the Toastmasters circuit.
Regardless of the presentation format, offline or online, the criticisms all sound too familiar: the presenter does not add any value by merely reading the slides, the slides are too wordy, flashy or poorly designed, and the animations are too distracting. For classroom or Toastmasters settings in particular, the speaker’s position relative to the projection often results in undesirable blocking of content or unintended wardrobe colour changes.
Much has been said about avoiding the above pitfalls, sometimes involving the decision to not use PowerPoint in the first place. I think, however, that the real solution involves a simple paradigm shift.
PowerPoint is not your friend.
I am not saying that PowerPoint was created solely to make your life as a presenter miserable. Since its first release on the Macintosh in 1987, many presenters have used it, and other presentation software, to transform and elevate their performance. How do they do it?
First of all, the tool is definitely not to be utilised as a band-aid for uninteresting content, unorganised points or unrehearsed performance. Presentation slides are also not to be confused with audience handouts or notes. Beyond these caveats, think about how PowerPoint occupies time and space on the stage (including the online “stage” that is the meeting software window) and, therefore, the audience’s attention.
In other words, think of PowerPoint as a second speaker sharing your stage, vying for the same audience.
Think about it. Whenever the slide changes, PowerPoint starts to “speak” to the audience. Being visual creatures, the audience will start reading the contents of the new slide; effectively giving their attention to “listen”. The more content on the slide to digest, the longer the audience will remain distracted from you, the main speaker.
When you step in front of the slide, your audience may peer around you to continue their reading; effectively ignoring you at least partially. Add animations and you have a second speaker who is actively waving at the audience begging to be noticed.
The good news is that you have full control over this second speaker. PowerPoint is a terrific actor but a terrible performer. Feed it excellent lines and good timing cues, and it will truly help you succeed.
The following tips truly make sense when you consider PowerPoint as a co-presenter:
If you can say it, save it for the handouts (which you distribute after the presentation). Displaying the same gist on the slide forces the audience to choose between you and the slide. Displaying the exact same words makes you redundant.
Utilise the black screen. This effectively “turns off” PowerPoint; letting your second speaker step aside for a while. This can be done by pressing the “B” key on the keyboard for PowerPoint. Some presentation clickers have this function built in too.
Respect and utilise the space on the stage. With the screen turned black, you can now safely step in front of the projector without changing your head or wardrobe colour.
Understand the interplay between the presenter and the presentation tool and you will be able to utilise PowerPoint to its full potential. Use it to illustrate or show concepts beyond words, display major points to aid the audience’s understanding, or to punctuate important points with impactful imagery.
PowerPoint can be your assistant, your magician’s assistant.