Death by PowerPoint? All Presentations Would Benefit from Higher Communication Standards
By Eric Bergman, BPA, ABC, APR, MC, Author, “Five Steps to Conquer ‘Death by PowerPoint‘”
According to some estimates, between thirty and forty million PowerPoint presentations are created each day. But, of those millions of presentations, how many are effective? How many provide value by, as a bare minimum, making good use of the audience’s time?
These are interesting questions that need to be asked more often, especially by public relations and communication professionals.
During the past twenty years at workshops and seminars, I’ve asked more than twenty thousand people to raise their hands to each of the following statements in turn:
- Raise your hand if most of the business presentations you’ve attended in the past few years have made extensive use of visual aids.
- Raise your hand again if you can say that fifty-one per cent or more of those presentations were a good use of your time.
Virtually every hand has gone up to the first statement. Everyone knows that most “modern” presentations are accompanied by slides—either projected, printed or both.
Response to the second statement has been interesting. Of more than twenty thousand people asked, about six to eight per cent of people put their hands up. I’ve presented to rooms of two hundred people in which fewer than ten people put up their hands to say: “Yes, more than half of the presentations I’ve attended have been a good use of my time.”
Think of your own experience. We know the vast majority of presenters use PowerPoint when attempting to communicate with their fellow human beings. But there is a high probability that the vast majority of those presentations are ultimately wasting people’s time.
Opportunities for Communication Professionals
This presents a couple of interesting opportunities for communications and public relations professionals. The first exists on a personal level. As communicators ourselves, we can add value by modeling a higher standard of behavior.
The second opportunity is organizational. If we’re providing strategic communication advice, and one of the tactics is for presentations to be developed and delivered, how can we, as communication professionals, ensure the greatest possible impact and success of this part of the program?
The answer to these questions lies within five simple steps that encompass the presentation process from start to finish:
- Put the audience first
- Structure the conversation
- Minimize visual aids
- Convey your message & personality
- Answer questions throughout
These five steps can improve every presentation. By applying them, we can all achieve better communication outcomes from our presentation inputs, and make better use of every audience’s time.
Put the audience first
Putting the audience first means employing a strategic approach to all presentations, similar to the way in which a communication professional would approach any project:
- Define the need to communicate—what the audience needs to understand, which must be carefully matched to what the presenter can “tell.”
- Translate the need into value—which should be clearly stated at the beginning and end of every presentation.
- Analyze the audience—by asking a series of questions to gain insight into demographic traits (external characteristics), as well as shared opinions (internal beliefs).
- Understand the event—ask more questions to determine what’s occurring before the presentation and after, keeping in mind what needs to be accomplished with this specific group at this moment in time.
- Establish measurable objectives—from both business and communication perspectives.
- Measure results—to determine where the presentation was successful and where it could be improved.
Structure the conversation
As a freelance speechwriter earlier in my career, I developed a number of models to enable me to manage information quickly and efficiently. Prior to using these models, I rarely had speeches approved without multiple rewrites. After developing these models, refining them and applying them, about 85 per cent of speeches I wrote were approved at first draft with only minor changes.
Honestly, if you can’t map out a presentation from start to finish in six to eight sentences, a 30- or 60-minute time frame will not ride to your rescue. If the concepts aren’t clear in the shorter format, they will never be clear in the longer one.
For those interested in structuring effective conversations with audiences (or saving time as a speechwriter), the content development models can be found as a free downloadable workbook at www.fivestepstoconquer.com/workbook.html.
Minimize visual aids
Minimizing visual aids means reducing the number of slides produced, and reducing what’s on each slide. To achieve this, you absolutely must not develop your content while sitting at PowerPoint (or any other slideware program). Use the workbook above to develop the bulk of your content. When that’s done, ask yourself: “Where will a visual add to my presentation?”
Minimizing visual aids also means using a variety of tools to communicate effectively—whiteboards, flip charts, YouTube videos, pictures, or a piece of paper, if necessary.
Blindly equating the term “visual aids” with “PowerPoint” in presentations is like bringing your vehicle to a mechanic who refuses to use any tool other than a crescent wrench. Will the mechanic be successful? Perhaps. But, more often than not, limiting the toolbox means limiting your success.
Convey message & personality
Each of us conveys our message and personality every day of our lives while we’re engaged in relaxed conversation. The premise here, therefore, is that relaxed conversation is our best communication (and presentation) style.
Conversations are two-way. They are receiver-driven; the speed of information going from sender to receiver is driven by the receiver’s needs, not the sender’s. The best conversations adhere to the principle of “less is more.”
Every exchange should be a conversation, not a presentation. A conversation evokes images of a two-way interactive exchange. A presentation evokes images of bullet points and boredom. As audience members ourselves, which would we prefer?
Answer questions throughout
The irony of our modern world is that over the past twenty years, the form of communication that started closest to a conversation—the presentation—has been taken further and further away by technology.
We would never open a text conversation with someone by typing: “I’m going to send you ten screens of information. When I’ve sent it, you can participate and send something back.” But that’s exactly what happens in modern presentations. “I’m going to go through my presentation,” someone will say, “and I’ll save time at the end for questions.”
Questions from the audience should be encouraged and answered throughout. On the other side, answers should be short and succinct. Which presentation is more interesting and interactive? One in which three or four questions are asked at the end? Or one in which dozens of questions are asked and answered throughout, in which the presenter still manages to finish on time?
Make Your Presentations Count
On the day in which you read this article, thirty to forty million presentations will be created. If yours is one of them, how will you ensure that it achieves the outcomes you’re seeking?
Put the audience first. Structure a conversation, not a presentation. Minimize visual aids by making sure each one adds value, and don’t be afraid to use a variety of tools.
Convey your message and personality in a relaxed, natural style. And answer questions throughout.
If you let these five steps help you, they’ll improve every presentation you develop and deliver by helping to ensure that your audience says: “Yes, that was good use of my time.”
Eric Bergman, BPA, ABC, APR, MC, has been a public relations practitioner and professional communicator for more than 30 years. His latest book, Five Steps to Conquer ‘Death by PowerPoint’, is available from Amazon. To download the free workbook that has models to help presenters develop clear, concise and focused presentations, please visit www.fivestepstoconquer.com.
Published: August 14, 2012 By: