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… How PowerPoint Presentations are Poisoning your message and what to do about it.

“Oh, I already covered that!”  said Karen as she turned toward the screen at the front of the room.  The Power Point slide was the all-too-familiar cobalt blue background, a headline in gold, eight lines of white text with the current idea highlighted while the rest were dimmed.  But, while Karen was fussing over her PowerPoint she was missing the obvious fact that over half of her audience hadn’t noticed that anything was wrong at all…because they had already lost interest within the first four or five minutes of her presentation and were no longer paying attention.  They were thinking their own thoughts while they put in time waiting for Karen to get through her boring, mind-numbing ritual.

They didn’t lose interest because the material wasn’t relevant to them!  They lost interest because the visual impact that is available in a well-done PowerPoint presentation had been lost long before the workshop had begun.  It was lost in the construction of the PowerPoint presentation itself.  As is all too common, Karen had created her PowerPoint presentation for herself rather than for her audience.

To ensure she covered everything she wanted to say, she created a slide for nearly every thought.  The end result was a Power Point presentation that consisted of entirely too many slides.  Nearly all of them violated the basic rules for a great visual.   I’m sure you recognize the pattern.  There is the title slide, then, as in an outline, each new concept or idea was listed one right after the other, slide after slide after slide of text.

Karen had so many Power Point slides she was constantly running over her allotted time to cover the important concepts she had to cover.  It took her longer to process her slides than it would have taken her just to tell her audience what they needed to hear.

The result of her effort to appear technologically competent in her workshop was that she actually sabotaged her efforts.  Her participants suffered from that glazed look of information overload.  The real work of the seminar was hampered by the confusion of too many ideas being thrown too quickly at the listeners.  Their minds were slightly muddled.  Their energy was dulled.  They didn’t volunteer answers to her questions.  And there was limited discussion.  Her constant use of text (written words) had put her participants into a trance…and they showed it.

All of this could have been avoided simply by following a few simple rules.

Rule #1

You, the presenter, need to be the center of attention.

You want your audience to connect with YOU not with the screen.  If your relationship with the audience works, the details won’t get in the way.  If the relationship doesn’t work, the details won’t help.  The more your audience interacts and relates with you the more likely they’ll also embrace your ideas.  It’s about the relationship!

There are several ways for you to enhance that relationship.

  • Remember that you yourself are an exhibit.  What you wear and how you move sends a powerful message about the importance of your topic.  I realize that in this modern world of ours there is a tendency for people to want to wear casual clothing to meetings.  But, casual means something entirely different for you as a presenter as compared to someone who is a participant.  You set the standard for the importance of your topic.
  • If the group is small enough (or if there is a camera on you that is projected on a big screen so everyone can see you) using an object as an exhibit is another way to make your point.
  • Use an overhead to create a visual “on the spot.”  An example is to write the participant’s answers to your questions.  When you do this you get to acknowledge the participant, which builds your connection and relatedness.  They get to see their ideas being important.  And, you have ongoing opportunities to present additional information that relates to their answers.
  • Getting the audience involved in interactive exercises accomplishes several things.  If the exercise is well designed your participants will discover and retain more information through their experience than they ever will by merely listening to you.  They’ll also have a chance to discover additional insights from the other participants they interact with.  They’ll get a chance to actually practice the principles or skills you’re discussing.  And, the energy level of the room will increase in direct proportion to each person’s involvement.

Remember that “information overload” is caused by having too many un-experienced ideas.

Rule #2

Use a visual only when it can make the point better than you can.

Human Beings are visual animals.  A picture really IS worth a thousand words.  But, what most presenters don’t realize is that a thousand words AREN’T worth a picture.  So, one visual consisting of a picture or diagram that shows the relationship of ideas will be more powerful and memorable than an entire series of slides with an ever increasing number of words.

There are two exceptions to this rule.  The first exception is if you are discussing something of historical importance.  An example might be The Declaration of Independence or The Gettysburg Address.  But even here a visual of The Gettysburg Address becomes tremendously more powerful if it includes a picture of Abraham Lincoln or a background consisting of a Civil War Battle.

The second exception is if you are discussing something of legal significance.  If your meeting is covering a new contract, it is certainly prudent to visually cover the contract paragraph by paragraph.  Of course, if it’s that significant then you’ll also want everyone to have a copy of the document as a handout.  But, even if the participants have a handout, each visual would be more memorable and interesting if the slide had a relevant picture or background.

Rule #3

The visual needs to be completely understandable within 10 seconds.

If you have to explain what the PowerPoint slide means then it’s too complicated.  The general guideline for words is the 6 by 6 rule, no more than six lines of text and no more than six words per line.  Once again, though, the right picture or graphic will greatly enhance your message.  The ideal situation is for you to advance to a slide and have everyone in the room get your point without you having to say a word.  Now…that’s a well designed visual.

In summary, a poorly crafted Power Point presentation poisons your relationship with your audience.  The purpose of the use of visuals is to ACCENT your message rather than to BE the message.  By following these 3 simple Visual Rules you’ll improve your presence, strengthen your audience’s perception, and increase your persuasion.

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