Monday, 7 April 2014

Why can’t PowerPoint shake off its ‘death by’ tag?

There are many people throughout the business world and beyond who hate PowerPoint and I discussed what I believe to be the root cause of its perceived failings a while back in a blog I wrote at the time of PowerPoint’s 25th birthday. You can click here to read the article.   

The fact is, though, that the ‘Death by’ tag has been blighting PowerPoint for a long time now. Why does it persist? Why don’t we just stop using PowerPoint or, preferably, use it better? Recently have I discovered one key factor that I believe does much to perpetuate ‘Death by’ accusations.

Alongside my work as a Presentation Skills coach, I devote time to mentoring Apprentices in the world of PR where I began my career. At an early part of their programme the Apprentices have to outline the role and responsibilities of PR executives at different levels. It dismayed me that they kept submitting work declaring that PowerPoint presentations were one of the responsibilities of an ‘Account Assistant’ - the entry level position just below that of ‘Junior Account Executive’. 

“No, no, no” I responded, “PowerPoint is simply a tool that supports the speaker, so it needs to be put together – or at the very least briefed – by the speaker themselves so that they receive visual support to what they are saying”.

The Apprentices looked confused and showed me the text book from which they were learning. And there, alongside ‘research, maintenance of media lists and general administrative duties’ was listed ‘PowerPoint presentations’ as one of their duties.

Frustrating as it was to make this discovery, it was not actually too much of a surprise. I often get collared by minion types who say: "can you spare a few minutes to advise me on some ‘decks’ of slides I have put together for the chief exec when he sees the board next week". It’s not really helpful at times like this to hit them with the truth which is as follows:
  • You are confusing a bunch of PowerPoint slides with a presentation. You (or whoever is actually speaking) are the presentation; the slides are merely support.
  • You MUST see the slides as support – a simple tool to help you get your point over – if and when appropriate. If your starting point for the presentation is the slides, then the speaker will be driven by those slides and they won’t really be themselves, let alone speak from the heart. And the audience's attention will almost inevitably flit between what the speaker is saying and what is being depicted on the slides.
  • When creating a presentation think of yourself as a film director. They do not get their cameras out until they have thought through and planned out exactly what they want to get across! If you start without any visual aids at all and simply speak out loud you will soon discover where you need some visual support – the moment you are struggling or taking too much time to describe something is probably the point at which you need a visual aid. The solution may well be PowerPoint, but it may be something even more appropriate to this particular situation such as a prop of a simple board.   
Finally, give some serious thought to finishing your presentation without any PowerPoint. Why?  Because the finish is where you need to deliver your Call to Action – the point at which you are asking your audience to remember your big point or commit to something specific. That needs energy, passion and full-on eye contact, all of which are so much more powerful than a list of bullet points on a slide.

So how do you kill the PowerPoint at a strategic moment (without powering down your projector)? Come back to this blog next week and I’ll tell you about the little known but most useful tool that's built into PowerPoint to help you.

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