We produce many meetings every year that include in-house presentations and demos that are beyond our control. I've seen good ones, and I've also seen the incomprehensible, unimaginable, and uninspired.
There are thousands of books that will tell you how to make a good presentation, so I'm not going to talk about eye contact and posture. However, I do have one bit of advice that comes by way of my discussions with Geoff Thatcher, a senior writer at our company who has helped produce keynotes, presentations, and meetings for companies like Intel, Rational Software, and Bay Networks.
DT:Why do you tell clients to take a PowerPoint sabbatical? GT:Microsoft's PowerPoint and its clones are an epidemic. It's everywhere! But, I'll bet there's not a person who hasn't seen a PowerPoint presentation fail.
DT:But isn't that the result of poor execution or poor technical support? GT:You can blame it on that, but I think the problem goes much deeper. Before PowerPoint, everyone had to draft an outline of their presentation, and we all did it on the ubiquitous yellow legal pad. PowerPoint has become the digital equivalent. If I were to propose taking your presentation outline and putting it up on the screen, you'd say I was crazy.
DT:But that's not a fair comparison. GT:Sure it is! People use PowerPoint to take people point-by-point through a presentation. If it's a talk on how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, we see on the screen: 1) Get the Bread. 2) Get the Peanut Butter. 3) Get the Jelly. 4) Get the . . .
DT:So really, you're just asking people to stop using so many words in their PowerPoint presentations. GT:That's a start. But PowerPoint also forces people to spend too much time looking at the screen. I want my audience to focus on me. I can communicate a message with more power than a glowing PowerPoint presentation. Visual aids are only a tool. Communication should be between the presenter and the audience, not between the audience and the screen.
DT:But you have to admit, PowerPoint is a nice crutch for people who may not have the skills, charisma, or self-confidence to stand up without visual aids. GT:My answer to that is to throw those crutches away. People will give more powerful presentations if they keep the outline to themselves. Try preparing a PowerPoint presentation, but instead of projecting it, print it out, and place it on the podium.
DT:Okay, but you agree that visual aids are important. GT:Yes, but again, people overuse PowerPoint. You can't go to a networking presentation without seeing that graphic with computers and servers caught in a spider web. That doesn't communicate anything.
DT:What do you suggest? GT:Try a photograph, a slide projector, a marker board, a chalk board, props. But keep it simple. If you're talking about change, put up a picture of Martin Luther King or a fork in the road. Images like these communicate emotion.
DT:I can see how these might make your presentation more powerful, but would they really save time and money? GT:How much time do you spend preparing PowerPoint presentations? I've seen people spend hours perfecting fades and importing graphics. And if you outsource, there are costs to firms that produce presentations and rent projectors. Some companies actually fly in PowerPoint specialists to tweak a presentation until minutes before the speech.
DT:You may be right, but people aren't going to give it up? GT:I'm not asking for that. I'm suggesting they make one presentation without it and then judge whether or not that presentation was more effective. If people take a sabbatical from PowerPoint, they'll come back to it with a better understanding of how to use it to make a truly powerful impression.