A dilemma when it comes to business presentations is how and to what extent to incorporate PowerPoint. One the one hand, PowerPoint allows presenters to incorporate color, animation, graphics, video and a wide range of special effects. On the other hand, each of those aspects (much less all of them taken together) can be distracting and compromise the presentation…and the presenter.
There are a number of considerations and steps that should go into determining the role of PowerPoint for any presentation, especially when making a pitch for business. Here are four primary ones…
Must the Slides Match the Handouts?
Based on all too many presentations these days, one would think that there is some inviolable rule in the business universe that says all slides must precisely match the handouts and vice versa. Either that or most presenters prepare their information, notes, etc., in PowerPoint and every piece of information ends up on the slides, and in the handouts. Or is it in the handouts and on the slides? The two should not and do not need to replicate one another, but all too often they do. The slides are primarily a visual medium. They are seen and sometimes heard. Handouts are primarily an intellectual medium. They are read.
SUGGESTION: If and when you prepare your presentation in PowerPoint, complete with points and sub-points and supporting sub-points, ad nauseam, let this comprehensive version serve as the basis for your handout. Save a copy and pare its information back to main points and whatever graphics you may be using. Let this version serve as the slide. Apply the “Six by Six Rule” for your slides: No more than six lines per slide; no more than six words per line.
A final comment regarding handouts: distribute them at the end of the presentation if and when possible. During the presentation you want the audience’s undivided attention. Of course, there are times when the requirement is that they be distributed at the beginning of the presentation, and in the case of a conference presentation, days beforehand. But that just makes the case for making the handouts and slides similar but not duplicates even more compelling.
Balance Between Objective and Subjective
We have all sat through presentations where the presenter basically read their slides to the audience. Or worse, you’ve been in the middle of making a presentation realize “I am not giving them anything that isn’t on the slides. Uh oh…” How does one avoid such a situation?
SUGGESTION: Use the visuals to depict objective facts and information; to convey the “what is” of the situation. You as the presenter then provide comment, context and perspective, or the “what it means.” Big screen = objective; Presenter = subjective. Bear in mind when I say “subjective” I am not suggesting “spin.” Rather, relate the information to the audience and their interests in the topic and help lead and persuade them to the understanding or action you desire.
This simple step will allow you to become the driver of not only the presentation, but of the outcome. The presentation will be infinitely more interesting to the audience and easier for you to make because it allows you to add the value of your perspective rather than merely showcase your ability to read out loud.
Visuals Don’t Necessarily Have to be Used Throughout the Presentation
At some point, PowerPoint became too much of a good thing…which made it something less than a good thing. Visuals can add much to a presentation, but their overuse can just as often kill it. There is no established standard for how many slides should be used in a presentation. But let me suggest that if you have more than 10 slides planned for a 20 minute presentation, you probably have too many. Bear in mind that YOU are the primary visual. If your presentation is overloaded with slides, you by default become like the potted plant at the edge of the stage: ignored. You become primarily engaged with the mechanics of advancing the slides rather than with the audience.
Seek to determine the number of slides you need based on the number of key points you want to make. The number of points in any presentation – if you want them to be remembered – should be limited to four, certainly no more than five. Let’s assume that each point warrants two slides. That makes for 8-10 slides. Admittedly, this is an arbitrary formula, but you get the point. Less is more, especially when audiences are routinely overwhelmed by slides. Your presentation in comparison will appear, and be, much more clear, concise and effective. In turn the audience will convey to you heightened credibility.
SUGGESTION: Avoid the use of “title” slide at the beginning and the “Questions?” slide at the end. Title slides typically include such scintillating information as the name of the organization (yawn)…and the name of the presenter (aren’t they being introduced?)…and maybe even (drum roll please!)…the corporate logo. How about just an abstract slide or a photograph with the name – expressed as the primary message — of the presentation? Of course, the handouts should have a title page but not the slides themselves.
What is Appropriate for the Position?
The last point I would make here regarding the use of visuals is to consider what is appropriate given the position and stature of the presenter. The more senior the position, the fewer the slides. It is simply not befitting a senior executive to be reduced to the role of a slide mechanic. Or worse yet, having to coordinate their display with a staffer.
Bear in mind that audiences are more interested in what leaders think, care about and feel relative to a topic than they are the topic itself. And perspective, passion and the art of persuasion just can’t be conveyed through innumerable slides. This is not to say that executives and senior leaders should not use visuals. Not at all. What I am saying is that visuals should introduce a point or convey a thought clearly and simply, to which the presenter speaks.
SUGGESTION: Some of the most effective senior level presenters I have seen and worked with use one or two slides, if any at all. And the slides they do use are usually simply designed and convey a single thought or point, perhaps through a wordless illustration or graphic from which they launch. They do not let themselves be overwhelmed by visuals. They recognize that they are what the audience is most interested in. Egotistical? Not really. It merely reflects an appreciation and respect for the role and expectation of the position they happen to hold.
Visuals can be an effective element of a presentation. They should not be the presentation itself.
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