Death by PowerPoint

I've churned out a few things already this morning and now I am on a presentation I am preparing as part of internal training on social media. Whoopity whoop.

I usually try to prepare presentations, keeping in mind, how I react to presentations delivered by others. Man, some people can really put the lead on your eyelids with their delivery. Your topic may not be the most exciting to some people, but you can make it exciting and downright interesting if you really work on it. Some presentation delivery no-nos I have come across in the more recent past include:

  • Slides with an encylopaedia of information - My eyes! My eyes! Why is there so much hard to read text on the screen? Do you think I really can read that? Do you think I really want to read it?

But what's worse...

  • Reading everything on the slides, verbatim - This is a peeve. You sit me down, put on your projector and then it's like a reading for kids session. If I wanted to sit and listen to someone read, I would have gone to a book reading. In addition, if I wanted to sit and listen to you read, then why the slideshow? Is it read along? Please don't do this. It's annoying.

Words really should be kept to a minimum because in effect your presentation is about you presenting. Remember, your PowerPoint is just the vehicle, but you're the driver. Catchy blurbs and sentences which encompass the meaning of a section resonate more than 3 paragraphs of technical terms, stats and jargon. Complement your words with compelling images, which leads me to my next point -

  • Clip art - Wow. Unless you're in high primary school, clip art really "dumbs" down your presentation. There are just too many stock photos available, and in a world of digital cameras and camera phones, too many opportunities to support your presentation with photos of your own, tailored just for what you want to say. And if you're doing a presentation for staff, then it is even easier because you can then incorporate relevant staff photos in your presentation, which is always a hit, because people are inherently narcissistic and love themselves, and ultimately love seeing themselves.
  • Animation - I don't mind if your effects are all fade ins, or fade outs, but when the entire presentation is a lesson in "How well I know PowerPoint animation", with words flying in from the left, dropping in from the top, slowly checkering in...oh save us! This is even worse when you add the sounds to it - swishing words and clicking photos. It just takes away from the sensibility of your content. Stick to one animation in your theme, and I am a personal fan of the fade in, if I do have to use an animation at all. Revolving sentences just don't seem to add credibility to what I am saying for some reason.

If you want to add some versatility to your presentation, minus the cheesey animations, why not embed a video or some relevant audio? A short video breaks up the tedium of your presentation and can bring another voice to the delivery. And it can also help if the next point refers to you -

  • Poor delivery - Not all of us are comfortable in front of crowds, be it a crowd of 5 or 5,000, but when you lack a certain aggression, your delivery can fall flat and cause heads to "bep". I am not the world's greatest presenter but though I do not imagine my audience naked (that is challenging enough), I do try to enunciate, project and present. Knowing what you're talking about and speaking from a position of knowledge and expertise is half the battle won. Don't surrender just yet if you're not an orator. Your presentation is your road map to what you're going to say, so be familiar with it and have an idea what you want to relay to your audience. I used to sit with one of my former bosses, because he admitted that he was not a good speaker. I would go over his speeches with him, make him rehearse them, let him stumble over words in the privacy of his office so that when the lights were on him, he would be less nervous, and less susceptible to a horrendous delivery. There is absolutely no shame in practising.  None.
The use of a video can lend another dimension to your delivery and save you from doing the entire presentation yourself. Of course your video must be relevant, interesting and short. Nothing can kill the buzz of a video presentation than dull content being crushed into the subconscious for what seems like forever.

  • And be yourself. So if you're not naturally a very funny person, avoid trying to be a comedian. Be aware of your body language and don't be a tree - work the floor. Interact with your audience. Ask questions. Take questions. Be a human and not a robot with a clicker in your hand. I have seen technical problems with a presentation totally derail speakers who use the slideshow as a crutch and are like headless chickens without them.

Your presentation should be straight to the point, should use clear language and not too many technical terms or jargon especially if your audience is not a technical one. It should be visual, clean, without too many bells and whistles and should be natural to you at the end of the day. When it is natural to you, it is more interesting to your audience.

So as I continue my presentation here, what other presentation missteps have you been subjected to and what other tips can you offer? Don't let me make victims of my audience.


kramtt said...

I HATE those silly word effects, especially those that have the letters dropping in one at a time. As if the presentation was not long enough already. The fade in/fade out is also my favourite.

I also have to do presentations, lectures at my previous place of employment, as part of a course that has to be passed to advance in the organisation. Although video is not practical, to illustrate the point, I often use examples, with people from the class themselves as the subject. I find that gets them interested.

Tell you what though, sometimes, I ask for questions and get crickets, and when the lecture is done, or during a break, I get mounds of questions that they did not want to ask in class itself.

The best bit of advice that I could give though is to make sure that you know your presentation and your subject matter. It is when people are slightly uncertain of either that we get reading from slides. You should go over the presentation a couple of times before, so that you are not fishing for what comes next, or give information that appears on a later slide. (both things I was guilty of when I first started, not because I did not know the work, but because i did not "rehearse" the presentation.

Once you are comfortable with the material, then you are better prepared to deal with any issues that you have with speaking in front of people. If you get nervous, the only way to overcome it is to speak in front of people more often. You still get nervous, but you handle it better.

I only do PP presentations when lecturing because the people I am lecturing to expect the handout of slides to make notes on. I find that I Am far better speaking without it. Of course in the areas that I am lecturing on, it is perhaps ok for that, but not something I would necessarily recommend to others.

Finally, anyone serious about doing really KA presentations should take a look a Steve Job's Keynote addresses.

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