Speaking 101: What NOT To Do (and To Do) With PowerPoint

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Microsoft PowerPoint. Oh the sighs and eyerolls it can elicit. In fact, according to one speaker through her own PowerPoint presentation featured on Slate, it is the reason for the decline of university education! But let’s get real. PowerPoint is not to blame. Slideware doesn’t create itself. It’s built by people that proclaim to be educators and speakers and distillers of information. Slides don’t kill people, people kill people. Well, with PowerPoint, people kill braincells.

But there is nothing wrong with PowerPoint or Prezi or any of the myriad of alternatives out there designed to do one thing: help us present information.

Still, we can all learn a few things from those of us that use PowerPoint frequently. I speak to dozens of audiences around the world every year and use PowerPoint exclusively. Why? Because I’ve mastered these few techniques that can turn your boring read-along PowerPoint presentations into artful, speaking genius!

  1. Stop using PowerPoint to get your information across. Too many people load their slides up with everything they want to say. Well what’s the point in presenting then? Just give people your slides and save them 30 minutes or an hour of their lives listening to you read it for them. Unless you are serving milk and cookies then, by Joe, read them the slides!
  2. Stop using PowerPoint as a crutch for your discomfort. Lots of presenters subconsciously fill up their slides with text (the same text they are going to read to their audience) because they are inherently uncomfortable with getting up and presenting anything. The slides become a convenient shield behind which a presenter can hide.
  3. Stop having someone else make your slides. What’s the one thing that you need to know to become a really good presenter? That’s being comfortable speaking about your subject matter. And how can you do that when someone else (who hasn’t read this blog post) is creating your slides…and filling them up with lists and text? Don’t let other people prepare your slides, no matter how busy. Take a few hours (doesn’t even have to be in one sitting) and do it yourself.
  4. Start having a conversation. This is the turning point. When a presenter begins to realize that they are not up in front of a crowd of people to read them a bed-time story, the presenter starts to have a conversation, starts to talk about what it is they are up there to present in the first place. The best way to prepare yourself to present is to do just this: hang out at the water cooler and chat up people about your topic. Keep doing that until the “chatting” is second nature. Then have that same chat when you are on stage. Boom! Presenter extraordinaire!
  5. Start using images. When you present, there are a lot of components: how you stand, how your are dressed, the tone in which you speak, and the slides (if there are any). PowerPoint is a visual medium. When used properly, it can actually help create a richer, more interesting presentation experience (hint, hint: multimedia). That’s why you should ditch the text all together (well, at least the bullet points) and just use images as “conversation bookmarks” that help to visually stimulate your audience.
  6. Start providing your slides. When you present, you want people to listen to you…not the little voices in their heads reading your slides. You want their attention on you, not on their notebooks. The best thing that you can do is tell them up front that you’ll provide both the slides and all your speaking points in PDF after the presentation. Bingo! Problem solved.

Anyone can be a good speaker. Sure, there is an element of charisma that marks some speakers apart from others but for the most part, this is a very learned skill. Once you get over the hump of being able to stand up in front of a crowd at all, you need to climb over that wall of using PowerPoint as a crutch. Trust me. You’ll spare a lot of people some mind-numbing misery by following these simple steps and using PowerPoint for what it was intended: to support you as a speaker…not to take your place.

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