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.