Like a film, a presentation is not about the special effects. It’s about the story. A cinema audience may be impressed by clever use of computer-generated imagery; the audience at your presentation may be impressed by the clever PowerPoint slides you have created. But, in both cases, the point has been missed and the audience leaves unsatisfied and untouched by any message the film or presentation was intended to convey.
It’s amazing what can be achieved on a slide these days and speakers are all too often beguiled into outdoing each other with the beauty and complexity of their PowerPoint effects, rather than concentrating on strengthening what really counts – ie, the plot.
A few years ago, I was at a conference where a speaker was confounded by technology and found himself without his slides or any visual back-up for his speech. Accepting his fate, he stood up in front of the expectant crowd and told us the story he had planned to share with us, directly and openly. Shorn of the accoutrements of the modern presentation, this talk was one of the most powerful I’ve ever heard.
I’m not saying never use graphics in your presentations – there are times when showing a picture is by far the quickest and most accurate way to put across a concept – but I am saying use them with caution and restraint. And slides with only text on them need to work very hard to justify their existence. Basically, ask yourself this: what does this slide add to the audience’s experience? Is a slide necessary to illustrate this point? Or are you using the slides to guide you through your talk? Worse still, are you using slides only because you feel you ought to show something?
If you’re using your slides in lieu of notes, this just puts additional pressure on you: if you’re waiting to see what slide pops up before you tune into the next point you want to make, you’ll always be on the back foot. A few discreet bullet points on a piece of paper or card will keep you ahead of the game. If you’re struggling to keep track of what comes where, perhaps your talk would benefit from restructuring – as I’ve said before, randomly ordered points are much harder to deliver smoothly than are points arranged with a logical flow.
If you’re feeling you should provide something for the audience to look at, have more confidence in yourself. The people in front of you have come to hear what you’ve got to say. So, tell them. Without distractions.