WRITTEN BY: MARTINA MERSLAVIC, OWN THE ROOM COACH
Think about that when you use bullets in your presentations. Rather than using too many of them, target them carefully. Even better, why not try to win without shooting.
In 1950s, overhead projectors became widely used, maybe you still remember them or you have utilized them yourselves. Today, we have PowerPoint, Prezi, Keynote and other software, but a comparison between a presentation at a conference this January or in January 1995 would show mainly the technical difference. The transitions between the slides look more sophisticated, there are various animation schemes that help us call pictures, graphs and data on the screen, we can choose among many different graphics to illustrate structures, processes, systems, org charts, you name it. Presentations look technically smarter, but still, they contain way too many bullets. The content is linear without the drama, interesting characters and attractive images. Regardless of whether you use good old PowerPoint, Prezi, Keynote or something else, try to sincerely answer the question: whom does the software serve better, the speaker or the audience?
Powerpoint (or other software) is a crutch that will safely take you to the end of your presentation, but don’t expect to get high grades for efficiency. It is more likely that the software will mislead you to include more data than your audience can handle. When preparing your presentation, the program will never yawn, look away or sigh, and any time you will instruct it to create new slide, it will happily accommodate you and give you enough space to include another piece from your rich personal data warehouse.
When you think like that, you think about yourself. About what you know, about what you must not forget to tell, about what you think is important. And PowerPoint is a great way to download all that to your audience. But if you want to transfer some rich content, you need above all a good connection, which has nothing to do with powerpoint. You can create it with eye contact, physical closeness, and with the story that has its conflict, some positive stress, a good ending. And you can enhance it with your unique and unrepeatable personal charisma.
Before you start creating your presentation, think first, whether and why you need it. If your story features dramatic photos, fantastic infographics and interesting people, do include them in the slides. But only to complement your content or make the listening easier for your audience. Complicated data structures cannot be efficiently told without the picture, but don’t get trapped into trying to explain every single data piece. The best criteria to go by is to choose only the unique, unexpected, emotional and simple content that helps you tell your story.
The time creating power point slides would be much better spent to develop the story and seek the answer to some short and tough questions. Think about how you will use your voice and body to compete for the attention of your audience. Plan and rehearse your pauses, using your space and body language to lower the filters of your audience and make them listen to you, ask questions, or, even better, look you up on LinkedIn and contact you because you inspired them.
When you are finally on stage, or at the meeting, and have just started your PowerPoint, here are a couple of simple rules to help you win:
- Never compete with your own PowerPoint. Don’t make the audience choose between listening to you and watching a complicated animated scheme, as they might end up doing something completely different, for example looking into their mailbox for new messages. This is especially true when your slides are full of written text, usually appearing after bullets. The audience will always read it faster than you will be able to speak it and will probably use some free time for their own priorities. Consider the attention of the audience as the market. Of course, you want to win the largest share, for which you are already competing with the audiences’ email and messages. Why would you want to additionally cannibalize it with your own PowerPoint?
- Ask yourself, do the bullets in the PowerPoint really hit? Reading is an intimate endeavor, so you might as well leave it to intimate moments. When you are on stage, dominate with your personality, experience, knowledge, and inspire the audience with your enthusiasm for the topic that you know so much about. The outcome will be much better than with dry reading of the bulleted text.
- Limit the number of slides. Ten slides for a 20-minute presentation is a good measure, but every situation is unique. Rather than talk too much, plan a discussion with your audience at the end, which will only happen if you will enthuse and intrigue them. This part of your presentation will be tough and not everything will be under control. It is much easier to create 50 slides than lead a 5-minute quality discussion about your topic. But what is of a greater value to your audience? What will they remember more: interesting and interactive discussion and the fact that somebody gave them good food for thought or just passive listening to yet another presentation?
- Find, try out and use the most important key on the keyboard when your presentation is in slideshow mode. This is the key B. When you press it, the screen will go black and all of the sudden, you will own the spotlight. When you have it, you can do anything with it. You can direct to yourself, the audience, your prop, one exact spot in the conference room…
You don’t like the spotlight? Feel more comfortable working behind the scenes? Of course, this is your legitimate choice. But when you have the spotlight, the stage or just the word, be aware that you have the responsibility as well as the capability to use the time given by your audience well. And the spotlight comes handy in those cases, much handier than PowerPoint.