PowerPoint Presentations

September 29, 2012

Few things in business are more rightly feared by the presenters and more properly dreaded by the recipients than a PowerPoint presentation. PowerPoint has rightly been criticized by many, and one of the best criticisms is Edward R. Tufte, The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint

I’m not going to debate the pros and cons of PowerPoint, but try to share with you a couple of hints on making the PowerPoint presentation to an audience, whether it is in person or, increasingly, over the web.

First and above all, master your material.  The PowerPoint slides should be a reminder to you of what you want to say, and a way of providing your audience with the high points, the findings, the very core of your presentation.  This does not mean you have to write an essay on each PowerPoint slide.  If you have to do that, you are not ready for the presentation and your audience certainly will not be ready to receive whatever intelligence you have to give them.  When you do that, you will soon find your audience is reading ahead of you, and is rapidly getting bored waiting for you to catch up with them.

Mastering your material means that you can give the presentation without ever looking at the overheads, and still feel comfortable with it.  Your job is to face the audience, to make eye contact with them, and to somehow draw at least a few of them into a conversation, even if it is only a one-way conversation.

Two, handle interruptions – which your boss calls his questions. Typically there will be interruptions.  There are three ways to handle an interruption.  One wrong way is to say, “I will be getting to that”.  The worst way is to say that, but then never get to it.  The right way is to give a brief, that is one sentence, response to the question, and indicate that you will expand on it later on – and then do it.  Never, ever have a questioner wait for an answer.  It is very hard getting them to pay attention in the first place.  And by doing that, you risk losing your audience, or least the small number who are actually interested in what you were saying.

Three, realize you are not giving a speech, you are talking with the audience.  But appreciate that speechmaking has some lessons to give you.  For example, a really good speaker causes you to listen because she changes the way she speaks.  She goes from a soft voice to a louder voice, from slow speaking to rapid speaking, from conversational bits to emphatic tones.  By continually modulating your own voice, you are telling the audience that you are talking to them and forcing them, almost automatically, to listen more closely to you.

Four, if you manage to get your presentation done in the time allotted – and you had better do that no matter how little time you are given or how much your time is cut down after you start – make sure you have an ending that summarizes the absolute core of what you are communicating.  That should be on one slide, your last slide of content, and put across the point in such direct terms that even people who were not at the presentation will understand what you meant to communicate.  It is not the audience’s job to guess what you meant; it is yours to pound it in.

You have to understand that while PowerPoint can be a useful way of combining visual, written, and oral communications, none of these methods, nor all of them combined, guarantee 100% reception and digestion.  To put it bluntly, no matter how good you are and how good your PowerPoint slides are, not everyone is going to get the message, so you have to overcompensate. If you have the time, practice.  If not, keep in mind Dale Carnegie’s advice while you are up there:

“Tell the audience what you’re going to say, say it; then tell them what you’ve said.”

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