Presenters: When NOT To Use Powerpoint

Today, Microsoft Powerpoint and Apple Keynote presentations have become so popular that every speaker suddenly feels like they need to use those tools in every workshop or conference. But having seen them abused so many times, it wouldn’t hurt to consider this list of why you should re-consider using slides in your next presentation:

1) Never use presentation software until you’re an experienced, confident speaker.  Powerpoint can be a crutch, and all those hours you’re spending finding the right slides, you should be using to practice the talk itself. Remember: Powerpoint does not help you become a great speaker. It’s only a tool for specific situations. Instead, spend your time in a private room, actually practicing your talk out loud – and do it over and over.

2) During the talk, Powerpoint makes it too easy to become dependent on the computer.  When most people put their Presenter Notes on their laptop, they become glued to the computer rather than engaging the audience. Once again – practice the material well enough that you’ll be free to walk around the stage. Make eye contact with the audience and don’t become “stuck” behind the podium.

3) Don’t fill the screens with text.  I sat next to a guy on a plane recently (he looked exactly like Dwight Shrute from “The Office”) and he was working on a Powerpoint presentation. He had filled every slide with text. Single spaced, wall-to-wall text. Nothing is more boring that forcing your audience to read long passages of text on slides.

4) Cheesy photos will kill you.  Nothing destroys a slide presentation like those corny shots of office people with their thumbs up, or exaggerated stock shots showing wacky stuff. Stop it. Find real photos. Use your own if you can, but if you can’t, please stop using cheesy stock photos. Your audience will be grateful.

5) Learn to read a room.  I’ve attended workshops at conferences where people got up to leave, started checking their email, or talking to a friend – all while the speaker was speaking. Certainly they were rude – but they were also communicating that the speaker wasn’t engaging them. A great speaker doesn’t get lost in his presentation – he is constantly scanning the room and making sure he’s connecting. If he sees the connection is lost, he or she can adjust, shorten, or change the direction of the talk. Knowing how to read a room can help make sure you get invited back.

6) Make sure your content is unique and on-target.  Are you really bringing insight in your presentation that the audience needs? Have you done your homework on the attendees? A few years ago I spoke at a media conference and after two days of speakers, I was the only one who actually taught about the media. The other speakers were good, but they didn’t address the one big thing the conference was about. If what you have to say is truly a revelation to your audience, you will be remembered.

7) Oh – and did I mention not using Powerpoint until you’re an experience, confident speaker?  Here’s what experienced speakers know:
– A great speaker doesn’t say filler words like “um,” “ah,” “you know,” “actually,” or “right?” Filler words have no meaning and drive the audience nuts. Don’t feel obligated to fill silent moments with words. Master the speech before you start using slides.
– Avoid repetitive words. Many speakers get into a rut repeating certain words, like “again,” “literally,” “specifically,” or “strategically.” Each person is different so become aware of certain words you use repeatedly without thinking. They only distract from your message.
– Mix it up. Don’t be monotone. Get excited, get quiet, get enthusiastic, get funny, and get serious. Like an actor in a movie scene, keep the audience on the edge of their seats.
– Finally – study great speakers. Watch speakers you admire and note why they engage you. Read books – “Give Your Speech, Change the World” is one of the best. I highly recommend it.

And if you MUST use Powerpoint, start by reading Nancy Duarte – she’s my model for presenting.  And at the very least, learn the tech. Have the right connectors, know how they work, and know the right settings on your computer. Bring back-up batteries for your clicker. Have paper copies of your notes in case the tech fails. Go in assuming things will go wrong, and you’ll be prepared for anything – without losing your cool, getting upset, and performing poorly.

Better yet? For time being at least, leave Powerpoint at home…

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  1. thanks for the reminder that presented content is primary and slide shows are secondary.

    did you mention the text-filled slides to your seat-mate?

  2. Great advice about a paper backup! I’ve found the tech setup and volunteers so varied at every church I’ve spoken at that I just cannot depend on PowerPoint being available.

  3. What always helps me is spending time on formulating what my core message is (using a few short sentences only) … Having done that I ask myself the question how each slide contributes to that goal… every bit of information that does not contribute gets erased…

    as a plus: when tech fails (or there is only a little time left) i still can bring across the core message

    1. So true Bruno. Too many people just put nice photos on the slides and they don’t really enhance what the speaker is saying. I judge a good presentation by whether or not it could be understood without the slides. If it can, then dump the Powerpoint.

  4. Powerpoint is often electronic anesthesia. The worst is giving paper copies of the presentation. Second worst are text dense slides. Images are powerful when linked with good stories. I’ve seen Phil and a few others do this. Being an effective speaker who consistently engages her or his audience is key, powerpoint or not.

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