Presenting Less for More Conversation

“Death by PowerPoint” is still alive and well, unfortunately. I continue to attend presentations where the presenter insists on crowding onto slides everything that they feel needs to be said within their allotted schedule. The result is minimal conversation during the presentation and, perhaps a blessing, the audience forgets the presentation as soon as it’s over.

Flipping through slide-after-slide to get your point across does not engage your audience. And it does very little to improve their productivity. The test of a great PowerPoint presentation is not measured by the number or quality of your slides. It is measured by changes in your audience’s conversation. 

Whether you’re an executive, manager, or employee, you are likely exposed to facts and figures every day. Sitting through a slide presentation with more of the same can be mind-numbing. If you’re getting ready to create and present using PowerPoint, consider this: Your audience does not need 50 slides in the next ten minutes. What they need is conversation that will help them make sense of what you’re presenting. You need to engage not only logic, but emotions, as well. 

Several years ago, I attended a project status presentation by a department head. There are two things that I remember about that presentation. First, the slides were crowded with tables, graphs and numbers. Second, only one person asked a question at the end of the presentation (I don’t remember the question). Was this presentation powerful? Not in the slightest. Was it memorable? Well, I remember the effects of the presentation (eye strain, boring, audience silence), but I don’t remember the presentation itself. 

This particular presentation, while it contained logic (despite the busy slides) was missing emotion. The presenter and his slideshow did not allow the audience time to absorb or discuss any of his points. In fact, he insisted that we hold questions until the end of the presentation! He did not engage us at an emotional level and that’s why the presentation was promptly forgotten. 

When you prepare your next PowerPoint presentation, follow these four rules: 

  1. NEVER put more than six words on a slide. If you need more words, use a picture instead.
  2. Stay away from the animated features in PowerPoint. The spins, drop-ins, transitions, etc. only serve to distract the audience. They don’t add value to the overall presentation.
  3. If using images, use real photos or download professional images from sites such as clipart.com or corbis.com. Remember: If you are preparing a professional presentation, use professional images.
  4. If using sounds during presentations (and on specific slides), download sounds and music from CDs. A nice effect that I like to use is playing soft music on the first slide while the audience arrives for the presentation. The Proustian effect can be quite amazing.

And when you present, consider this:

  • To engage your audience during your presentation, tell them that you’ll give them a detailed handout of your presentation AFTER the presentation. Distributing it before the presentation will only serve to distract your audience from the presentation.
  • Do not hand out your PowerPoint presentation slides, not even the “Notes” pages. Why? Because they do not contain your presentation and the recipient may misinterpret information on the slides. Bullet points on slides are just the “cues” you used when speaking about the points.
  • Do not repeat the words printed on your slides. People can read. Instead, add to those words by providing clarity and a deeper explanation of the subject matter. Use examples and real life stories to make the point.

Audiences will tolerate your logic as you present it in PowerPoint, but it’s the conversation during presentations that will allow them to draw their own conclusions. Whether you’re selling or telling, powerful conversation is a sure way for your audience to engage in and remember your presentation.

Did You Find Everything You Were Looking For?

Is there such a thing as too much customer service? The more I ponder this question, the more I believe this to be true. Sometimes organizations may go “over the top” to please the customer, but in doing so, they create the opposite effect. Here’s an example.

I usually shop for groceries at Thriftys because the store is clean, selection is good, it’s in my neighbourhood, and it’s not an overwhelming big-box-store. In the “old days” before Thriftys was purchased by Sobey’s, getting through the check-out line was no hassle and usually pleasant. What I’ve noticed since Sobey’s took over, though, is that cashiers are now asking more questions and it’s always the same questions. And when that first question comes out, “Did you find everything you were looking for?” I cannot but picture a robot. It’s always the same opener. On top of that, there are what I consider to be really stupid questions. Why does the cashier ask me how I want my groceries packed and whether they should pack the bulky items and whether a full grocery bag is too heavy? Isn’t that their job to know how to pack groceries and to know that bulky items that don’t fit in bags don’t go in bags and if they’re asking me if the grocery bag is too heavy, it’s obviously too heavy? And, yes, I do want the meat wrapped in plastic and the cleaning supplies should be packed separate from food. Why would they ask me if it’s okay to not do this?

While I understand that Sobeys wants to ensure that their customers are ‘greeted’ and ‘treated’ with respect at check-out, too much really is too much. The cashier’s brief robotic conversation with me doesn’t deter from the cashier’s efficiency, but it does nothing to make me feel welcome or special. In some sense, I am left feeling annoyed that I have to answer the same questions every time I go through one of the tills.

Sobey’s, if you’re reading this, listen up: To improve customer service, let your cashiers determine whether conversation is necessary and what the conversation should be. I don’t need to hear the same mundane robotic quizzing each time I go through one of your tills. Drop the drill. Your customers will thank you for it. And don’t forget that the customer is always right – just remind yourself how you would like to be treated when you go through one of your own tills. Did you find everything you were looking for? Or would another line of questioning (if one is needed at all) be more natural?

Sometimes “less” really is “more” when it comes to customer relationships. Talk less, do more, and we all win.