Who Said PowerPoint Rules?

“I want you to discuss your accomplishments in the meeting, but please — no more than four slides.”

That was the directive given to my husband last week as he prepared for a company performance review meeting. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. When did PowerPoint become our default communication mode? I fear that someday soon I’ll sit down to have a conversation and be expected to launch my slides.

We know we’re in trouble when we start defining the type and quality of our communications in terms of slides.  And since most decks don’t follow the “glance & grab”™ principle, there is typically only one place to go — downhill.

“Back away from the projector…”

The best presenters don’t see PowerPoint as the answer to every situation. Instead, before they create a single slide, they take a step back and ask a few questions:

  • “Who is my audience?”
  • “What do I need to tell them?”
  • “What’s the ideal way to get my message across?”

Effective speakers shift their emphasis from slide-focused — “how much can I fit on this slide?” — to audience-focused, making sure their listeners can hear, understand and take action. If you are committed to optimal communication whenever you step up to speak, try this four-step process:

Step 1:  Translate the directive.

What if “Use no more than four slides” really means, “Keep on point and on time”? Approaching a presentation from that perspective can help you focus on what’s really important, instead of just producing an arbitrary number of slides.

Warning: Sometimes you really don’t have a choice. For example, if your boss expects everyone to use the same PowerPoint template, then it’s best to go with the flow.

 Step 2:  Gather your thoughts. 

Take a few minutes to mull over what you want to say. Can you capture it in one simple sentence? Some call this the core message, but I call it your unique perspective. In other words, it’s a one-sentence summary of your personal view of the situation.

For some people, getting organized and finding their perspective means opening PowerPoint and jotting down ideas. That’s fine! Others use Word or even a piece of paper — whatever works for you.

Warning: Even if you use PowerPoint to organize your thoughts, it doesn’t mean you’re locked into using slides in your final presentation.

Step 3:  Consider other support tools.

We rely so heavily on slides that we rarely think about using other media or even props for support. Ask yourself, “What’s the best way to maximize my impact?”

When Steve Jobs introduced the MacBook Air, he carried an interoffice envelope onto the stage. After a while, he dramatically pulled out the slim, lightweight new computer. Talk about impact!

Warning: Use media (slides, video or audio) only if it boosts the power of your message.

 Step 4:  Whatever approach you choose, practice it.

If you’re only given five to seven minutes to present, it’s essential to honor the time allotted to you. The best way to stay on schedule is not by limiting the number of your slides, but rather by practicing out loud.

Warning: Practice your presentation so you finish in time.  And if you are using slides, video, or props, be sure to include it in your practice.

Instead of following the crowd and relying on a slide show when you present, shift your emphasis. Think about your audience and what will maximize your message. Deliver your message with poise and passion and you’ll be confident, heard and inspiring — whenever you step up to speak.

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