Clay Adams | April 30th, 2014
It was the sudden feeling of numbness that made me realize something was wrong. I should have expected it. I started to feel light-headed followed by drowsiness. My eyes started to become heavy and I found myself thinking of things that, well, I honestly can’t remember. All I know is my mind wasn’t where it should be and I was experiencing something I wish would end.
No, it wasn’t something I ate or drank (believe me, after years of my mother’s cooking I can eat anything anyway). Nor was it a drug-induced bender. This was something far more sinister.
It was a PowerPoint presentation.
You know what I mean. You’ve seen it before. It starts so innocently. An item on a meeting agenda that sounds interesting. Heck, it only has 15 minutes assigned to it so that should be ample time for a quick background summary and related discussion with a few questions and answers thrown in.
But then the horror strikes you. The presenter opens a PowerPoint document. A quick glance to the lower left and you see there are 45 slides. For a 15-minute slot. What happens next is the feeling of dread that, alas, is far too common.
The stomach tightens. You glance quickly at your watch. You check the agenda again. Did I misread the time? Was it supposed to be 150 minutes, not 15? You look at your cell phone and urge it to ring. Please, someone. Anyone. Just call me.
But then the cold reality hits you. It is too late. You are stuck like a car in a traffic jam, cursing yourself for not taking the previous exit. There is nothing you can do but wait it out, hope the presenter will skip slides nine to 41, or pray that someone will rescue you from this PowerPoint hell by either a) calling you (yes, even a call from a telemarketer in Mumbai would be treated as a life-or-death call right now) or b) someone pulls the fire alarm (reminder – it is illegal to falsely pull a fire alarm and, unfortunately, being rescued from a PowerPoint presentation is still not grounds to do so).
The beast can be beaten
It is time that we all, like Peter Finch in Network, declare that enough is enough. It’s time to tackle the PowerPoint beast once and for all.what do we have to do? For a start:
- Take a realistic approach to timing. I’m sorry but no matter how darn good you think you are, you cannot plow through 45 slides in 15 minutes. Rule of thumb is generally two minutes a slide – and that is if you are really focused, tightly scripted and a polished presenter. Despite what we think of ourselves, most of us aren’t this good.
- Look at the content of the presentation itself. Do you really need all the slides you think you do? Those who travel – well, except my missus – know that you should lay out everything you think you need to take then put at least of half of it back. Same can be said for presentations.
- Lose the title and bio slides. People have the agenda or speaker topic. They get it. As for who you are, take a lesson from a speed dater and give a succinct and interesting verbal intro of yourself.
- Avoid the history lesson. I don’t care what happened in 2012 let alone 2002, 1996 or when Adam and Eve were kids. Focus on what your audience needs to know now. Today. Sure, context is good. But I don’t expect my auto mechanic to tell me how an engine works before telling me he changed an oil filter!
- Drop the “today I’m going to discuss the following” slide. Just get on with the presentation. You can also lose the “thank you for your attention” and “Questions?” slides. Both assume people are a) actually paying attention and b) interested enough to ask questions. Golden rule is “never assume”.
- White space is not a bad thing. Fight the urge to fill every piece of a slide with text, charts, squiggles, lines, bubbles or any other bloody thing you think will make people go “wow”. They won’t!
- Resist the temptation to use the “animation” function. Your slides don’t need to look like a Cirque Soleil show. If you want to be animated, do it with your words and presentation style, not with silly on-screen gimmicks.
- Remember your audience can read. In other words, DON’T READ THE SLIDES OUT TO ME. If you are worried people are bored by your presentation, this technique will totally kill them (or make them consider doing that to you).
- Think visual. Slides should really only be used to support your content. That means use them for a clearly readable data set or chart that reinforces–visually–the understanding of your content. You should even recreate such data charts to make them functional in PowerPoint. Excel and PowerPoint, like lawyers and communications people, rarely go well together.
Time for change
I could go on and on (I usually do anyway) about my various PowerPoint beefs but you get the gist. Former Apple executive Guy Kawasaki suggests the 10-20-30 rule for presentations. It’s worth a look and take note.
So, stop and think about your next PowerPoint presentation. Stop being a trafficker of slide hell and become a purveyor of real communication. Think of your audience, focus on the content and – most of all – use your words.