Death by PowerPoint
Perhaps it’s pointless to point out that many of us have suffered Death By PowerPoint many times over. Sometimes we experience this as presenters of information; sometimes as participants.
Public speaking is a skill. If you lack it, PowerPoint cannot help.
“Death By PowerPoint” has become, sadly, common in business life. What are the symptoms? Don McMillan has some suggestions.
One of the best ways to learn this skill is to join—and be active in—a local Toastmasters International club. If you cannot speak well in front of an audience, no presentation software will help you. Or your audience. Active membership in Toastmasters gives you the experience you need to stand up and speak to a group. You will learn how best to organize as well as present your information, and software such as PowerPoint will become a tool for you to use, rather than the crutch you clutch to get you through an otherwise distasteful (or scary) task.
This well-worn acronym means, of course, Keep It Simple, Stupid. Lots of writers write about the tendency we have to cram “data” into our presentations. By this, I mean the ubiquitous charts and graphs that you can insert into a presentation. On the other hand, our managers love these things, don’t they? Nothing perks up an otherwise dull presentation than a pie chart, yes?
No. The point to any presentation is to:
Identify an issue
Posit a resolution
Briefly discuss the situation
Charts and graphs are, really, supporting data that can be provided in handouts to those who need, or wish to have, those data.
If you have a hard time organizing your shed or sock drawer, you will have a difficult time organizing information to present before a group. (Toastmasters will help you!) It’s critical to keep in mind the “why” of the meeting, as in:
Why Are We Meeting?
Meetings usually occur because:
- The project, or some element of it, must be reviewed (scheduled meeting)
- New personnel have been assigned to the project
- The project teams need to come together and learn what each is doing or has done
- Someone felt that a meeting is necessary (I’ll not discuss the last option…)
Remember the organizing points of a presentation:
Keep your discussion of each point brief and focused. Use your presentation slides sparingly to reinforce the points you make. How?
Use a chart, with a simple lead or title to illustrate a point.
Don’t put your speech in your slides—people read faster than you can speak, so what’s the point of that?
Resist the lure of animations—these gimmicks will clutter your presentation.
Limit each presentation slide to one subject.
Ask: Do I Really Need This? over and over and over—justify each slide.
One of the first things I learned as a member of the Demosthenian Literary Society was that I had but a scant few minutes to present my topic—two, maybe three minutes at most. So, I thought out my proposal, even in the meeting, and organized it accordingly. The time limit forced me to bring the points I thought most important out first; the rest I could use in defense of my motion.
Years later, when I volunteered to train adult leaders in the Boy Scouts of America, I learned to practice each topic presentation in front of the staff. Over and over; each was timed and critiqued. (Toastmasters will help you with this, too!)
So, practice your presentation at home, in the garage, in front of no one, or in front of your family (they will still love you, anyway…hopefully).
Not everyone who attends your presentation will need or want all the facts, figures, and charts that support your subject. Have these materials available, or have a sign-up sheet so that you can e-mail PDF copies of these to those who want them.
Paradigm Shifts & Such
So, that which I present here breaks the paradigm at your company? We will probably survive; I survived each time my brother accidentally broke a treasured model of mine, one I’d spent hours building and painting to historic perfection. (Oops! Wrong paradigm…)
The corporate culture will survive—and you will reap benefits! For one, people will ask questions; that’s the best way to know that they’ve payed attention. For another, you will gain a reputation as one who presents information effectively, and you will better communicate with others, too. (You might also be asked, or assigned, to do more presentations.)