Sunday, May 08, 2011

To PowerPoint or not to PowerPoint?

Bill and I had enormous fun doing our presentation at the Infotec conference in Omaha a couple of weeks ago, which gave us a chance to reconsider a long-standing debate:

As a speaker, are you better off with or without PowerPoint?

The Pros:

PowerPoint can provide an outline for your talk. Of course, you already have an outline. In our case, we use index cards to prompt ourselves through the main points of our presentation. But having those points on a screen behind us lets the audience know where we are. It also makes it easier for them to take notes, if they are so inclined.

You can use images to enhance what we are talking about. (Bill is much better at this than I am. Any interesting image you see in one of our PowerPoint presentations was put there by him.) Images are powerful, often more so than words. As someone who earns her living by producing words, I find this unsettling, but there it is. Jane Praeger, a wonderful speaking and media coach, told us about a hospital that tried everything it could think of to get doctors to wash their hands. Fines, rewards, reminders...nothing worked. Finally, they took a bacterialogical image of one of the doctors' hands, showing the germs all over it and posted that image throughout the hospital and it did the trick.


The Cons
:

PowerPoint is a crutch, which is why you see so many weak speakers putting up a PowerPoint slide show and basically reading you what it says. Zzzzz. When I recall the really impressive speakers I've seen, most did not use PowerPoint.

If an audience member is looking at your PowerPoint, he or she is not looking at you. This is an important issue for Bill and me, since so much of what we do is intended to engage with the audience directly. We don't hide behind podiums, we ask lots of questions and invite comments, we dress up as a geek and a suit, and we love to tell stories. All of this works better if audience members are looking at us and not at some slide. Engaging with the audience is so important to us that for a few presentations we decided to defy expectations by not having a slideshow at all.

The Problem Is...

People really do expect a slideshow. This was driven home to us when we looked the comments after speaking at a recent conference. "Excellent!" "Very useful information!" And we even got a personal thank-you from one slideshow-weary participant. But among the evaluations there were several who very forcefully missed the PowerPoint.

So, for Infotec, we pulled out our PowerPoint presentation and gave it a serious upgrade. We eliminated some slides that weren't essential and drastically cut the quantity of text in most of the ones we kept. We added images--most notably of Jennifer, Brad and Angelina, an illustration for the statistic that IT projects have less chance of success than celebrity marriages. We tried to keep our PowerPoint lean, mean, on-point, and image-rich. And that's the best solution we've found so far.

If you were there, tell us if it worked. If you're a speaker, and you have an opinion for or against PowerPoint, tell us that too.

And--THANKS--to Jean Munger, Eric Boklage, and especially Joy Lewis and Paula Mau of Luma Services for bringing us to Infotec. We had a blast!

Posted by Minda Zetlin

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