PowerPoint crutch

Alan BelniakGeneral1 Comment

"I didn't break my leg.  I just can't present."

"I didn't break my leg. I just can't present."

In every position I’ve held in my professional life, there has been numerous times where we’ve needed to communicate information.  And in these events, it’s been a mix of documents and presentations.  Increasingly, though, I’m seeing a use of presentations (and in my case, specifically PowerPoint) as a means to document something.  That something is a meeting, a pitch, a proposition, a status update… you get the idea.  But PowerPoint isn’t a documentation program – it’s a presentation program.  It aids in making and delivering presentations.

What frustrates me is the rampant use of a PowerPoint presentation as a way of putting a large document on display.  If that’s your aim, then you might as well write it in Word, and project that.  If you want to use PowerPoint, then use it as a set of attractive speaking notes that give you, the presenter (not the ‘author’ and not the ‘reader’) visual cues for what you are going to present next.  Please. I’m begging you.

Use attractive and creative images.   And please use less text.  It’s more visually appealing to the audience.  When you’ve seen a presentation where the presenter had a slide with an image and only a few words on the slide, do you immediately ask yourself, “wow – where are they going with this?”  You probably do.  And then you have to listen to find out what.  You have to listen, as opposed to read.

In this humorous and instructional video by Guy Kawasaki (at about the one minute mark), one of Guy’s “rules” is to use a font no smaller than 30 point.  The reason?  It forces you to use fewer words, and forces you to actually know your material.

What a novel concept.

Guy continues on to say that if you use 8-point text, it’s because you don’t know your material.  And if you read your text, the audience will pick up on that quickly, and know that you don’t know your material.  “I can read faster than you can speak.”  Amen, Guy.  (for the record, I don’t agree with all of Guy’s points here, but the less text point is spot-on).  I’d like to add that people also use 8-point text because they want to jam a bunch of content onto the slide.  That’s not what slides are for!  That’s what a document is for!

If you have that much content that you have to communicate to me, you should learn it really well and present it really well, or write a document, and let me read it on my own time.  If it needs to be written down and you need to have a record of it, then write a document, and not a word-packed presentation.  Use the headings and section titles of the document you just wrote as the bullets in your PowerPoint.  Now you can satisfy the author in you, and be a more effective presenter.

I know that this is easier said than done.  Not everyone can instantly change, especially if they are in a workplace where this is the norm, and you might need to adhere to it.  One suggestion here is to slowly use less and less text (no images… yet) over a period of time.  Push more content to the notes section.  Tell people that if they need to see all those words, they can open the notes section, or print the slides with the notes below.  This will begin to satisfy their latent document desires.  Then slowly work in some images.  I’ve been guilty of this, too.  I’ve often used too many words.  I started to slowly use fewer words and more images.  I also started to use images that were seemingly unrelated to my content, so people have to listen to me.

If you’re going to present, then present.  Don’t read a document to me.  Don’t use PowerPoint as a meeting crutch.

There are tons of great presentations on Slideshare, and you can peruse them to get some good ideas.  Here is one in particular by one of the influencers that I follow, C.C. Chapman.