PowerPoint or No PowerPoint: That is the question

During every coaching session, the question is sure to come up. “Do I have to to use PowerPoint in my presentation?” PowerPoint has become almost synonymous in some circles with the modifier “boring”, but that’s not the fault of the tool. It reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of that tool’s purpose.

Before you toss the tool, ask yourself whether you’ve been using it effectively. Are your slides packed with text? Is the point of each slide difficult to follow? Are the slides chiefly there to help you communicate your points? Are you using your slides both as presentation tools and as handouts for the audience to read and refer to later?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you may not be using PowerPoint very effectively.  Remember, if your audience can see and hear you, you need to be communicating differently than if you sent your information in an email, or mailed out printed material. Oral communication demands something different from both the presenter and the presentation.

To make sure you’re making the most out of your PowerPoint, remember the purpose of the tool is as a “visual” aid. Keep these tips in mind:

  •  Seek to be understood the first time.  Think about the “so what” of your presentation and keep those key ideas front and center. Don’t get bogged down by detail.
  •  Keep it visual.  Limit text wherever possible and substitute graphs, charts, photos, videos and anything else that keeps the “visual” in “visual medium”. Your audience did not come to read or be read to.
  •  Know and respect your audience.  If you have built a PowerPoint designed chiefly to keep you on track as the presenter, then you’ve got your priorities wrong. The success of your presentation depends on understanding and connecting to your audience. Try working harder to build a presentation that meets your audience’s needs rather than just your own.
  •  It’s the movie, not the book. Think about what you remember from the last presentation you attended. Is it words on a slide? Probably not. It’s more likely about whether the presenter was engaged, whether there were clear points, well made, whether you were persuaded  your time had been well spent. If you were in your audience, what would you want to see?

There’s no need to ditch the PowerPoint if you want to be an effective communicator. Simply learn to use the tool to your best advantage. And of course, whether you seek coaching to hone these skills or not, take your preparation seriously. Every presentation is an opportunity at enhancing or solidifying your professional reputation.