"In real estate, it's location, location, location. In presenting, it's preparation, preparation, preparation."
Sherry Wyatt

PowerPoint Presentation - An Oxymoron?

Break out of the Pack


Sherry M. Wyatt

Wheless-Wyatt Communications

PowerPoint has quickly become a staple of modern day presentations.  It almost effortlessly replaced the projectors, flip charts, handouts, and note cards of old.  In fact you could say the only thing that has risen as quickly as the adoption of PowerPoint is the increased boredom and wasted time experienced when it is used incorrectly (which is most of the time).  I see this same issue with individuals from all walks of life, in all industries, and in all positions.....from CEO to entry-level employees.

We have all experienced it...the feeling of dread as the light fades and a PowerPoint slide appears...yet we all continue to use it the same way again and again.  How can such a great presentation tool go so horribly wrong?

Well, the fact is PowerPoint is not the problem; the people who are using it incorrectly are.  It somehow seems to escape attention that the presenter is the one who delivers the message (or fails to in many cases.)

How many times have you been bored to death while sitting through presentations where the presenters think they are delivering their message with slide after slide, exactly the same way they have seen countless others, perhaps even yourself, present?  Maybe they think that is the way a presentation is supposed to be done.  Usually they don't even know why the audience and they, as the presenter, are bored to death.  It's often a light-bulb moment when I point out the reason.

Too many presenters use PowerPoint as a crutch for their own lack of preparation or skill.  They invest too much time into creating slides rather than thinking through and planning their message.  They simply fire up the software and start banging away. Good communication is, after all, about connecting with the audience, and not about who has the coolest slides.  The best presenters know their topic inside and out and focus on the audience instead of being tied to whatever is on the screen at the moment.

The first indication that PowerPoint is being used incorrectly is when it is used to create a presentation.  Working out your entire presentation by creating slides is a sure bet that your presentation is heading down the wrong path.  The only thing worse than developing a presentation straight from PowerPoint slides is reading them out loud to your audience.  This is how we put children to sleep.  We read to them.  On the rare occasion that the audience is actually trying to read the mass of information on the screen, their attention is split between the slides and the presenter's voice, causing a total lack of comprehension.

A study done by the University of Minnesota and 3M found that presentations with visual support are more persuasive - 43 percent more persuasive.  Visuals can help an audience understand abstract concepts and organize complex data to make a clear point.  Visual support also helps your audience maintain interest and retain the information longer.  Note, however, that "visual support" does not mean written copy - paragraphs, sentences, words on the screen.  Your slides should be visual images rather than just words written on a page.  The best slides arouse the audience visually.  Translate your words into meaningful, easy-to-understand pictures, diagrams, bar charts or other images.
PowerPoint can be a useful tool for your presentation, but just like any other tool, it must be used as it was intended.

The first step in learning how to correctly use PowerPoint is to know if and when it should be used.  It's simple:  The decision to use visual aids should be the LAST step in developing any presentation, and should be used to clarify, add interest, or otherwise AID your presentation.  You are adding an opportunity for something to go wrong whenever you introduce an element that relies on technology, so you should have a good reason......a reason that will benefit the audience.

The second step is learning how to design your slides.  Each slide should have a clear, easily understood point.  A cluttered slide will not only be ineffective but will actually detract from the message.  Slides should be created for an audience not for the presenter. I suggest using what I call the BECS principle: Balance, Evaluation, Color, and Simplicity.

To create slides that are simple and to the point, follow the 1-6-1-6 rule.  Limit each slide to one visual concept (1); limit each slide to six lines (6); limit each bullet to one line (1); and limit each line to six words (6).

If you follow these simple guidelines, you can break away from the packs of boring, ineffective presenters who hide behind their PowerPoint slides.  Instead, you can become a presenter who actually communicates in a manner that adds value to the audience and reaches a goal...an experience where no one's time is wasted (what a money-saver!).

Mastering the ability to create useful, effective slides and understanding how to use them to AID your presentation instead of detracting is an important skill.  Another is learning how you, as a presenter, should address an audience when using PowerPoint slides to maximize the impact of your message....but, that's for another time.....