Avoiding torture by PowerPoint

There are companies who have banned PowerPoint. And there are places where you get a Mexican moan around the room when you switch on the projector.

It’s not PowerPoint’s fault. You can do great things with it if you remember that someone’s going to be looking at it while you’re talking.

At Afia, we don’t rush to put things into presentations. We usually sit down and chat, or stand up and chat if we really have to. But when we do use it, we like to think we use it in a way that helps to get the point over.

Three things you can get wrong with PowerPoint (and how to put them right)

1.   Packing in everything you know

Stuff your slides and no one will read them.

A massive global company had a problem with people not reading all the ‘internal comms’ (ugly phrase) they were sending out. They used PowerPower presentations for people to watch at their screens and dispatched them around the world.

They sent me a 55-slide PowerPoint deck to work on – packed with 14-point text until it dripped off the bottom of the screen. Worse still, once you’d scrolled down then slide you got to an extra section of notes. I edited it down to five clear slides, each with one important point, with no scrolling. The chap in charge was furious. He’d put all that important work in, and now no one would ever read it. He said.

So we explained that the five slides were the summary that people could read in two minutes to get the gist of his work. The rest we edited into a reasonably interesting document to go with it.

The answer is to make PowerPoint your headlines, and give people the rest of the information by talking to them, or writing it in a more easily readable way in a different sort of document.

Slides should your attention grabbers.

2.   Non-stop talking

There are times when people need to look at a slide and soak up what it says.

Working on PowerPoint presentations you’ll always get someone who quotes the ‘rules’ they’ve been taught on someone’s presentation skills course.

‘You can’t read the text off the slide! It’s not allowed.’

Well, that depends how you good you are at reading. And it’s a lot easier to follow than putting words up on screen then saying something completely different.

If you’re putting up words that you want people to read, either read them out too, or give people time to read them themselves, and say absolutely nothing at all. Never put words, or charts, or figures up on screen and  then chat over the top of it.

Give your audience a chance to absorb the information you’re giving them. Sometimes, reading it out in a good clear tone helps.

It’s fine to be completely silent for a minute or two while people take in what you’re showing them. And it’s also fine talk it through point by point, in words. Some people prefer to see their information, some prefer to hear it.

The answer is to make sure that your slides – whether a photograph, words, or a chart – are telling the same story as you’re telling with your voice.

3.   Forgetting why you’re there

You’re there to make one point, and to back it up and to make it memorable.

Some of the worst attempts at doing this I’ve seen came after a company I worked with had presentation training from a bunch of black-suited ladies with briefcases. They had a formula for successful presenting, which didn’t consider the audience. It focused on the first 30 seconds – how to make an impact – and went downhill after that.

They forgot to ask who was going to be watching and listening, and what they might be interested to know. (Or – in this particular case – whether more than 25% of them spoke good English…) What we got were some great entrances with loud music and the occasional fancy dress outfit, followed by dull presentations heaped with slides. They all overran so everyone was wondering when they could have tea and didn’t watch or listen.

Think about how you’d feel if you were in the audience. If you’re given 30 minutes, ask yourself if you can do it in 15. Make it lively, make it relevant, and leave yourself half the time to answer questions from the people you’re talking to. (If there aren’t any, it’s a sure sign they’re desperate for a tea break.)

So picture someone at the back of the room, listening and watching.  What’s the one thing you want them to go away with? Write that down, and explain it as clearly as you can. Create readable slides to back up your one point. Then stop.

PowerPoint to please

PowerPoint works best when people don’t notice it’s PowerPoint. They see and hear stuff that’s useful to them.

The last time I saw a presentation, I was in a room full of communications consultants. At the start, they all groaned, ‘Oh no, not PowerPoint,’ as is the fashion. Then they read the quotations, perused the diagrams, listened to the talk. And at the end, wandering out they said to the speaker, ‘Wow, that was really interesting!’ ‘I didn’t know any of that.’ ‘Fascinating, thanks.’

You’re there to make your point to your audience. Make your presentation interesting and make it entertaining (as long as it helps people to understand and remember). PowerPoint is there to help, not to do it all for you.

Which is the point.