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Are You A Presentation Snoozer or Runner?

A press release caught my attention last week because it reminded me of a recent experience at the Interop 2013 IT Conference and Expo that TechMarketeers attended in May. The press release headline was “One-Third of Adults Have Snoozed During PowerPoint Presentations.” The recent experience – I nodded-off in two of the conference presentations that I really wanted to hear what the speaker had to say!

Read on – this is not a rant about Death By PowerPoint!

The press release provided an overview of the results of a recent online survey commissioned by Slide Rocket, asking questions of 1003 adults who use office software on a daily basis. A few other interesting results:

  • 30% say they have snuck out of a presentation (the runners!)
  • 20% (mostly men) say they have fallen asleep so many times they have lost count (the snoozers!)
  • 29% say they dread watching a PowerPoint presentation and 33% dread creating them

The most typical complaints are very, very familiar – too many words on a slide, boring graphics that are difficult to understand, speakers reading their slides and slides that do not support the message being delivered by the speaker.

Here’s where I part company with the Death By PowerPoint crowd. The fix to this problem is not fancier slides with fewer words and easier-to-understand graphics (even though those will help.) I did not go to the conference session to read PowerPoint slides. I went to listen to speakers share their knowledge and insights into topics that interest me.

PowerPoint is a tool, and like any tool, can be used wisely to assist speakers in sharing their thoughts or used poorly to distract the audience from the speaker and put them to sleep (or out the door!)  Here’s my favorite analogy.  As an amateur photographer, I am disappointed when the images I’ve taken don’t really capture what I remember about the scene. When I was younger, I used to blame the camera, film or the processing (OK, a lot younger) and started saving for a more capable camera. Nikon made a small fortune off of me! Now I know better – the problem was with the photographer, not the camera.

For those of you that have seen Steve Jobs give a presentation, you will already know that his slides rarely have more than 2 or 3 words on them and many are simply pictures or graphics with no words at all. You attend the session to listen to Jobs, and he doesn’t distract you with complicated, word-intensive slides.  And remember, Abraham Lincoln, FDR, Winston Churchill and JFK did not use slides. We can all learn from all of these great speakers.

Here are a few points that I’ve written down over the years to help me be a better speaker.  There’s no magic here – just some simple ideas provided to me by other speakers or in some of the seminars I’ve taken over the years. Remember, the most effective presentation styles are story-telling or conversational – not a monotonic lecture.

  • The single most important thing you can do is to thoroughly understand your material and know what you want to say to your audience
  • Think through the flow of your presentation and organize your key messages and supporting points accordingly
  • Now consider whether PowerPoint will help you make your points more interesting and understandable for your audience; pictures and illustrations indeed are worth thousands of words!
  • If you decide to use PowerPoint, do not fall into the trap of feeling you have to use every single feature – for example, animation or sound that does not help illustrate your point(s) is annoying
  • Go into your session knowing that you are the expert that people want to hear from – if you understand the points you want to leave with your audience, you can be a very effective speaker with or without the use of PowerPoint

There are many great classes that you can take on how to develop and give effective presentations. If your speaker reviews are not what you want them to be or you notice some snoozers and runners in your sessions, take a class on effective speaking, not on how to make better PowerPoint slides.

P.S. TechMarketeers is frequently involved in helping speakers create great presentations, frequently with PowerPoint support.

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