I was talking last week with my next awesome client about the problem of Death by PowerPoint, and why so many people still don’t get it. Our conversation led me to a realization about why smart people continue to give bad presentations.
Dull Slide Decks, and the People Who Use Them
We were mainly discussing the problem of dense, wordy slides. I continue to be amazed that this is still an issue. This in spite of the prevalence of TED Talks, which seem to be near-universally admired, and the hero-worship of Steve Jobs, who paved the way for visually-oriented, text-free slides.
I have several theories, which I’ve expounded upon before:
- Presenters want their slide decks to be understood by people who missed the meeting. But this completely cheats the audience in the room.
- People think their subject matter is too complex to be reduced to images and headlines.
- And, of course, the mother of all excuses: “I don’t have time!”
I understand that it can also be a matter of corporate culture. If everyone in a big organization is presenting the same way, it’s all-too-easy to run with the herd.
PowerPoint as a Security Blanket
As we talked, it really struck us both that the big reason people cling to old-school PowerPoint decks is that it provides a sense of security — a sort of lifeline.
Think about it. In the usual scenario, your audience is sitting back, half-listening to you, half-reading the text on the screen. But if your slides are cool images with minimal text, they’re more of a backdrop, underscoring your ideas instead of competing with them.
That means people are now paying more attention to you, the presenter. They’re judging your body language, listening to your tone of voice, reacting to your energy level. Can you maintain their attention strictly on the power of your ideas and your delivery?
Do those ideas hang together? Are there holes in the logic? Do you tend to drift off-topic?
Do you project confidence, strength, vision and leadership?
That can all be pretty daunting.
The Solution? A Holistic Approach
This is why simply showing people how to create better visuals is only half the battle. They also need to know how to structure their argument, focus their message and find a narrative thread, along with all the physical aspects of presenting, like delivery and vocal technique, movement and energy.
Presenting is the Most Important Thing You Do
I continue to believe that the ability to present your ideas in clear and compelling terms is the Number One most important skill in the workplace. It can help you win business with customers, sway skeptical colleagues, get approval for ideas, programs and budgets, nail a job interview, rally a team and so much more.
What’s Holding You Back?
So be bold. Cut the lifeline to PowerPoint. Commit to making your ideas the focus and promoting them with the strength of your presence.
For more information and inspiration, here’s a bunch of resources I’ve compiled. Many of these experts have great books of their own.
Watch This Short Video on Death by PowerPoint
And while you’re at it, you can check out this two-minute video where I walk through some of the common excuses for giving a dull, ordinary presentation and show you why they don’t hold water.