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Let’s Call PowerPoint What It Really Is:
Corporate Karaoke

By Chris Witt

Have you ever been bored by a PowerPoint presentation? It’s a dumb question, isn’t it? Of course you have – it’s an endless succession of bullet points, cheesy graphics and lame special effects. And the presenter regurgitating everything that’s on a slide you’ve already read. Who wouldn’t be bored?

Let’s call PowerPoint what it really is – corporate karaoke. We endure it even though it bores audiences, trivializes content and pushes speakers to the side of the stage where they interact with their slides, not with the audience.

Businesspeople – and more and more people outside the business world – have come to equate giving a presentation with using PowerPoint. But PowerPoint, even when used well, should be used sparingly.

PowerPoint addresses what pop psychology calls “left brain” thinking: people’s logical, linear and analytic way of reasoning. It’s the Sergeant Joe Friday approach to reality: “Just the facts, ma’am.” You’ll often need, especially in the workplace, to give precisely that type of presentation; project updates, technical briefings, financial reports, economic forecasts, and product demonstrations are all about presenting information.

But there are many times, even in business presentations, when you’ll want to appeal to people’s “right brain” thinking: their intuition, emotions and ability to see the big picture. Sales experts know people don’t buy anything – a product, a service or even an idea – based simply on logic. So the more you want to sell what you have or what you know, the more you will need not just to lay out the facts, but also to appeal to people’s emotions and imaginations. Those are the times when you should steer clear of PowerPoint.

For example, PowerPoint won’t help you motivate or inspire your listeners. Coaches during halftime, commanders sending troops into battle, and preachers in the pulpit would never, hopefully, use PowerPoint. And neither should you when you’re trying to rally your troops. PowerPoint won’t help you influence your audience, which is less about making a logical case for a proposition and more about shaping the way people think and feel.

Whether or not PowerPoint is called for, you can increase the impact of your speech or presentation by decreasing your reliance on it and following these rules:

1) Be yourself. Your character – your personality, experience, beliefs, values, even your sense of humor – shapes the message your listeners hear. The more likeable and credible you are as a person, the more positively your audience will respond to you and to what you say. Practical tip: Use the words and phrasing you typically use in conversation and use the same gestures you normally do, only make them slightly bigger.

2) Establish rapport with your audience. Rapport is a fancy word for connection, or more specifically, for a connection based on trust. Once you build that kind of relationship with your listeners, they will take your side and be more prone to buy into your proposal. Practical tip: Before you begin, establish your space. Arrange your notes, adjust the microphone and take care of all the little practical matters. Establish eye contact with one person. Take a breath. Look at another person. Take another breath. Then, and only then, speak. Your quiet confidence will gain your audience’s attention and add power to your message.

3) Show people how they’ll benefit. Every speech and presentation should have an objective: What you want the audience to know, feel or do as a result of listening to you. But here’s the paradox: to get what you want, you have to give the audience what they want. So figure out how your talk will benefit your audience. Practical tip: Tell your audience – don’t make them guess – how your idea, proposal, procedure, product, or service will help them solve a problem or achieve a goal.

4) Be brief. When’s the last time you wished a speech or presentation at work had gone on longer? People are busy, stressed and distracted. They’re easily bored. Say what you need to say as powerfully and as briefly as possibly and sit down. Practical tip: Finish before your assigned time is up, even if only by a few minutes. Your audience will love you for it.

5) Be clear. If you confuse your listeners, they’ll stop listening to you. And they won’t do what you want them to. Being clear may not win your audience’s cooperation, but confusing them is guaranteed to gain their resistance. Practical tip: Limit the scope of your presentation. Present only as much evidence and explanation as your audience needs.

6) Tell a story. Stories bypass your audience’s analytic – and critical – mindset, speaking directly to their imaginations and emotions. Audiences like stories and remember them. Practical tip: Tell about an event in your life or an encounter with a person that changed how you think or feel. Share that insight with your audience.

7) Use Q&A well. Many presenters shy away from taking the audience’s questions, afraid they won’t know the answers. But the Q&A session is – in most, not all, speeches  – one of the most important elements. It engages the audience’s active participation, and it gives you a chance to gauge how well they’re grasping your main points. Practical tip: For every eight to 10 minutes you’ll be speaking, allow two to five minutes for Q&A.

Nobody ever walked out of a great speech, meeting or presentation saying, “I loved the way he used PowerPoint.” So stop assuming that you have to use PowerPoint just because everyone else does. Use it only when it will help you accomplish your goal. When you do use it, remember that it is an aid to, not the centerpiece of your presentation. And whenever possible, don’t use it at all. Treat it like karaoke – something that should be used rarely and only under the right circumstances.

Read other articles and learn more about Chris Witt.

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