I’m not the first person to point out that Microsoft’s mainstay meeting and presentation application Powerpoint is usually anathema to any sort of useful communication, and that most speakers rely on it as a crutch rather than a memory jog, but I just got back from a three day marketing conference and was really struck by how most of the presenters were still falling into BPS (Boring Powerpoint Syndrome).
You know what I’m talking about if you ever go to meetings or attend any sort of workshop or conference. These are the folk that use plain white backgrounds for their slides and cram ten to fifteen bullet points on each slide, each bullet point a full sentence.
Nothing as succinct as “China: Up 15%” but “Our sales in the Pan-Asian region are up 15% over the same period in 2005, according to market research firm AsiaReportInc”.
And yet, I’m also convinced that Powerpoint can be used very effectively and be a real asset to a meeting or presentation. But only if you understand the basic benefit of Powerpoint in the first place…
Having given hundreds of talks at conferences and workshops, I have learned a number of basic facts about what comprises a good presentation.
The most important is passion: if you want to get your point across and communicate effectively, you really need to be excited and enthused about what you’re saying. You can see this by watching two of my models for public speaking, Anthony Robbins and Tom Peters. In fact, I’ll get back to Tom Peters shortly because he’s the only other person I know who really uses Powerpoint well.
When you’re listening to someone talk on stage, do you watch them or stare at their slides or presentation? Probably the latter, and it undoubtedly lulls you into a zombie-like state where you’re hearing what they’re saying, but it’s not getting past the first layer of your brain and being processed. I’m sure you know exactly what I’m talking about!
Now, imagine the same presentation without any slides at all. There’s not much you can do other than pay attention to the speaker, is there? If they’re lively and excited enough (remember, I said that passion is the #1 most important factor in a good speech) and if the lighting and room architecture isn’t terrible, you’ll be riveted to them, and your attention will be 100% focused on what they’re saying and, perhaps, selling.
So is there a middle ground? Yes, I think that there is.
Let me show you what I mean, rather than just talk about it, though. Here’s one slide from a highly-lauded two hour presentation I gave over the weekend to a rapt, standing-room-only audience:
Intriguing? Now, imagine that I bring that on the screen, read it out and pause for 10 seconds to let the message sink in. Then I spend the next five minutes talking about what I mean and why it’s so darn important for anyone doing business online. No transitions, no floating graphics, no text that slides on from the side, no bullet points. My total slide deck for two hours? 17 slides.
I can’t take credit for this approach to Powerpoint, though, because I shamelessly rip this off from Tom Peters, who has these amazing, multi-hundred slide presentations that are comprised of slides that contain one word or quote, against a dramatic, colorful background.
The other people who presented at the conference? They had slides more typified by this mockup:
I can’t demonstrate it here, but you also need to imagine that this actually comprises SEVEN slides in the presentation because each bullet item slides neatly onto the screen as that point is raised by the speaker (or, often, before they’re ready so they have to go back and forth in the presentation until they can sync up again).
And y’know what’s happening during all these slides and transitions? The speaker has to compete with the slide for the attention of the audience, and often, they lose. If you can’t be more interesting than some dull slide you’re showing, well, maybe you have a bigger problem, but it’s a sure bet that you’re not selling what you want to sell, be it an idea, campaign or product.
In the end, I would passionately encourage those of you who make presentations to either try flying without a safety net – skip the Powerpoint completely – or really work hard to minimize your slides. Make the slide reinforce the one key point for a given section of your presentation, and then tell me the rest. If I wanted to read your slides, after all, I’d ask you to email them to me.
That’s my take on Powerpoint slides and presentations. What’s yours?
Two additional articles to read on using Powerpoint effectively: Seth Godin’s Really Bad Powerpoint [ebook, PDF format] and Guy Kawasaki’s 10/20/30 Rule of Powerpoint. You also might be interested in reading my succinct tutorial on how to change the background color of a powerpoint slide.