18 November 2005

Ban PowerPoint...Now!

The next time some presenter starts a PowerPoint presentation and then proceeds to READ EVERY DAMN SLIDE, The Jenius will do one of two things:

1) Leave the place immediately, or

2) Interrupt the presentation and ask why the person is reading to Me.

You may deem this rude, but that's your problem. My problem is that PowerPoint has given people the impression that by slicing up their presentation into slides, they now have something good to say and a crutch to depend on so that practicing and preparation can be dispensed with.

They are wrong. Wrong wrong wrong. The end result of their wrongness is a presentation so insufferably boring that avoiding it altogether or pointing out to the presenter that they are failing miserably are the only viable choices.

Edward Tufte, a lionized expert on graphic design and visual communication, has long been a scathing critic of the use (actually, the misuse) of PowerPoint. Tufte even goes so far as to call PowerPoint "evil." The Jenius contends that the evil is in using it as a shortcut to boring people and ruining any chance at meaningful communication.

Now it's true that most people are afraid of speaking in public. Surveys have shown time and again that speaking in public is frightening to more people than the idea of death. Because of this widespread syndrome, many professionals believe that PowerPoint can help a person overcome that fear and make a killer presentation. It doesn't. What it creates is a drone who can't connect with his or her audience because they have chopped information into pieces, often overloaded the pieces with too many random thoughts and end up reciting when they should be speaking.

Here are a few tips on creating better presentations. They aren't easy; they require you to think and plan. No chunky square-text-image-animation crappy cha-cha here.

1) Create a story. See your presentation as a narrative, a moment in time that has a beginning, a middle and an end. Stories are almost as old as humans: We respond to them instinctively. They are also easier to remember, for both presenter and listener.

2) Divide your story into three Acts. This is also a natural progression, where Act 1 is the problem, Act 2 is the exposition (the context of the problem and what it means) and Act 3 is the resolution. Sound complicated? Here's how The Jenius would structure a presentation on eliminating PowerPoint:

---Act 1: PowerPoint makes you less effective as a speaker.

---Act 2: Problems with PowerPoint and what this does to you and your career.

---Act 3: How to overcome the problems and boost your image/enhance your career.

Your breakdown will be different, but notice how this one is easy to follow and practically frames the entire presentation towards the goal. Instead of chopping up to fill X number of slides, We now have a narrative that can be explored within a wide range of time frames. The only difference will be the level of detail, a factor you can now control with extra precision.

3) Divide the Acts into Scenes, with one major idea per Scene. Again, simple storytelling technique. And the "one idea per scene" limit helps you keep the focus on major issues and the flow from beginning to end. And don't try to make each Act or Scene be equal in time: let your narrative set the pace.

4) If you must use PowerPoint, then use it now to create only slides that define each Act and each Scene. In the example above, one slide would say "PowerPoint makes you less effective as a speaker." The rest of the topic would be the spoken material not presented in slides. This brings the audience to you, which is the whole point of being a speaker.

5) No bullets. Period. None. Forget bullets. Don't even think about any stinking bullets. Stories are not told in bullets. Stories flow. Bullets kill (the story.)

6) Keep your slides simple. Write out all the needed material and use index cards or some other method you like to create speaker notes. (Don't use PowerPoint for that: you'll end up with bullets or a trash heap of disconnected material.) This is your "script," but don't read it to the audience.

7) Handouts should be a combination of your few slides and some of your speaker notes. Don't give this to your audience before you speak: they'll read instead of listening.

8) Rehearse. Practice! Ask yourself questions you don't want the audience to ask. Be prepared. Give a damn! If people are sitting there to listen to you, make that time valuable to them. If you do that, you will be doing something equally or more valuable for yourself.

9) Speak with energy and as far as possible, try to have fun. The more prepared you are, the easier it is to have fun and be expressive. Audiences are very polite and supportive and will be pulling for you to do well...unless you start reading your freaking over-bulleted, lame-ass slides.

The Jenius Has Spoken.

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