June 9, 2017

Presentation Due? Don’t Start with PowerPoint


When we are due to present to our customer, to our colleagues, or maybe even to the board, we all turn to our old trusted friend PowerPoint. I suggest that our old trusted friend is not our old trusted friend but a lazy friend, and may I be so bold to say even a saboteur?

Originally designed for the Macintosh computer, the initial release was called ‘Presenter’. First seen in 1987 and then due to problems with trademarks, it was renamed to ‘PowerPoint’. It can be a fantastic tool. It’s just not THE tool, or the only tool.

Research by the guys at the presenting tool ‘Prezi’ teamed up with the Harris Poll interviewing 2,000 people about how they feel about presentations. The results won’t blow your mind, but you’ll be staggered to see them in black and white.

Nearly 70% of those surveyed said that presenting effectively was critical to success at work. And 75% said that they needed to improve their presenting skills. Plus, two thirds said that slide based presentations were boring. Nothing unusual so far…

Half admitted to doing something other than listening during a presentation and the answers were texting 28%, emailing 27%, and falling asleep 17%! You knew it and here it is in proof.

If you want to increase your engagement when you present let’s explore how, because whilst you may claim to be know this stuff, you’re not doing it. The gauntlet has been well and truly thrown down.

Improve how you present, engage your audience, and increase performance. Or, present as you always have, know that half aren’t listening, and pray that they may catch a glimpse of what you were waffling on about…

Begin with the End in Mind

Stephen Covey wrote a fabulous book called, ‘The 7 Habits of highly Effective People’. Selling over 25 million copies since its launch in 1989, it is now a must-read book for anyone in business that wants to improve. Of the 7 habits #2 asks us to ‘Begin with the end in Mind’. Like the other habits, they are wonderfully obvious, simple to understand, yet willpower and determination are the must have ingredients that make them truly deliver.

As a presentation looms most people start by clicking on the PowerPoint icon. Up it pops and away we go. We haven’t considered what we are trying to achieve. A sale? An agreement? Approval? Whilst we might know it, we might also not and probably not with clarity.  Being clear on what we want from this piece of work, and the subsequent presentation, is critical to success. Otherwise, it’s a bit like playing 501 darts, but you don’t know that you need to clear 501 to win, so you just start throwing darts, hoping that you’ll arrive at the end and win.

Action: Before you open PowerPoint write your ‘End in Mind’ on a piece of paper. It doesn’t need to be fancy, or even long. Just a few words that crystallise what you want to achieve. And then when you’ve finished writing your presentation, in whatever form that takes, ask yourself this question, ‘Will this presentation get me what I want?’.

If you are managing those that present don’t just review the presentation, review it against their objectives. Otherwise your reviewing on how good it looks. You should be reviewing it on whether it achieves its objectives.

Are You Using PowerPoint as Your Cue Cards?

When most people open PowerPoint they usually begin by writing bullet points and text. We’re enthusiastic to get all the thoughts and ideas out of our heads about this presentation, so we type. The challenge the brain has, is that it struggles to do these two things at once. To write the content and to write it in an order. Our brains see our hands typing the introduction and yet it’s thinking of the theme, or the main messages, or how to use a few pictures.

The frustration continues and we battle away trying to type the content and order it whilst now being more frustrated because the brain is thinking ahead and we’re just not ready, but we don’t want to lose the idea also. Add to this, emails, the phone, and colleagues, and there’s little chance of completing this presentation in ‘work hours’.

Action: If you are going to use PowerPoint, and I suggest that it can be a powerful tool, do not use it for writing cue cards. The audience can read 7 times faster than you speak in a presentation. So, by the time you have read the first sentence, the audience has finished reading and is now just waiting for you to catch-up. Use big bold images that cover the entire slide because 'a picture speaks a 1,000 words'. And write your text in the notes beneath for you to print as ‘Layout – Notes’, which you can then read.

If you are managing those that present challenge them to have no words on their slides.

Try an Alternative Friend

I suggested above that PowerPoint is the lazy friend. Someone we turn to when we need help. In this case to write a presentation. The problem is that this friend has made us lazy. It’s a familiar friend and maybe getting some new friends would help us to be able to choose the right friend for the right job. The alternative ‘friends’ to PowerPoint are:

  • An A3 page with all the information shown on it as charts, tables, and call outs. One of those printed for each person for you to talk through and to encourage questions & thoughts. Whilst you cannot control the flow because all the content is there to see, you will get much better engagement because the audience will feel in control.
  • Use the Flipchart. As you ‘present’ draw the items, or describe using a model. Most of us cannot draw and you will need to practice the drawing first. Before their eyes you are building the story. They cannot help to be engaged and they’ll no doubt join in with some joking around your inability to draw.
  • Telling a story has been proven to engage the audience very powerfully. Watch Malcolm Gladwell tell an alternative story about how David was not the victim and that it was Goliath that was always going to lose. We think that telling stories is not easy. Just think back to the last time you injured yourself and the stories you have told about it. The audience were engaged and you were ‘alive’ as you spoke.

Action: Next time you have a presentation due write down your ‘End in Mind’ and then choose an alternative format for your presentation from the list above, or try one of your own.

If you are managing those that present ban PowerPoint for 1 week and see what happens.

Presenting effectively is a skill that every knowledge worker needs if they want to get on. Improve your presentation skills with this handy one pager that gives you 7 steps to consider before you even think of opening PowerPoint. The first step is to begin with the end in mind and then there are 6 others.

More from Vistage:

Mikki Williams - Speak Loudly and Carry a Big Shtick!

Author Bio

Darren A. Smith is the founder of ‘MBM’, A training provider to the UK grocery industry. They help suppliers to the big four supermarkets to develop the soft skills that will secure them more profitable wins. Their unique training method, Sticky Learning ®, ensures that their learners are still using their new skills 5 months later, which enables them to guarantee a measurable return on training investment.

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