Last month, I was griping about PowerPoint. Honestly, it’s hard not to. But I’m coming to understand that it’s not the software that’s the problem, it’s how we use it.
A client asked me to “put together a canned PowerPoint” that they could distribute to a broad audience. This slide deck would require slides (obviously) and comprehensive speaker notes to guide the speaker’s presentation.
And right there, in that description, was every reason why I shouldn’t have taken the project. Because what they were asking for was something so bland, so visually cluttered, so generic and so utterly useless to the audience, that it might as well have been this (my personal favorite part comes at the end when he whips out the additional supporting slide to answer her question):
So why can’t a canned presentation work? Here are four reasons.
Reason #1: A presentation is a speech. A speech is a deeply personal thing to deliver. Therefore, there is no one-size-fits-all presentation that will work for all speakers. Each person has their own delivery style, their own comfort level with the material. While I can create a fantastic presentation for myself, or even for a single speaker, there is nothing that I can create that can — or even should! — work for everyone.
Reason #2: It’s not about the slides. In fact, a good presentation has nothing to do with the slides. A presentation should be able to be delivered without a single slide to support it. Yes, the slides can support or enhance the information that the speaker is discussing, but the slides are not the presentation. Adding more bullet points, more graphs and more animations (please, no animations!) will not improve the quality of the delivery.
Reason #3: A presentation should be created like a video script. The focus should be on the story, not on the jumble of information stuffed into the slides. Keeping the on-screen information to a minimum ensures that the audience’s attention is on the speaker and the flow of the story, not trying to make sense of the onslaught of sensory input. It also ensures that those in the back of the room can actually see what’s on screen.
Reason #4: The slides should not stand alone without the speaker. If you can email the slides to someone and they can get the full story from what’s on the slides themselves, what you’ve created is a really ugly paper told through bullet points.
What you really want, what everyone wants to deliver, is an engaging presentation like this (long) one, where Adam Savage discusses making his own replica Maltese Falcon. The slides absolutely support what he’s talking about, and add to his delivery of the story, yet if watched with the sound muted, they make not an ounce of sense on their own.
Will I continue to work in PowerPoint? Yes, but….
Going forward, all presentations will be crafted in Word first. They will be created with the same precision and attention to detail that clients expect to be applied to a video script.
The story will be told in full, and visual aids — images, charts, graphs or supporting text — will be added at the appropriate points to highlight the speech and add emphasis where necessary.
Once the storyline is approved and the client agrees to the flow and inclusion of the visuals, the presentation will enter the production phase and be converted into PowerPoint.
The resulting presentation will be a finished product that we can all be proud of, one that engages and informs the audience. And really, isn’t that why we’re doing these projects in the first place?