Avoiding Death by PowerPoint

As a professional trainer and presenter, this Death by PowerPoint represents something of an occupational hazard. It’s something that needs to be kept in mind constantly, so that you can try to avoid it.

In May of this year, Microsoft’s PowerPoint program celebrated its 25th anniversary since its release as part of Microsoft Office.  In one scary way to think about it, we have people entering the workforce who have never known life before PowerPoint, which makes me sad.  It makes me sad because those of us who are over age 25 can at least remember a time before being subjected to Death by PowerPoint on a regular basis.

We’ve all been there…stuck in a workshop or classroom or conference room which is either the temperature of the surface of the sun or manages to successfully mimic the Arctic, watching a PowerPoint presentation that has a narrator that has managed to pass themselves off as a presenter.  The slides are full of paragraphs of text, and the presenter is reading it all…word for word.  Or the presenter has tried to be clever and accent the presentation with bullet points…bullet points which make no sense, but which you suspect only exist to serve as a memory aid to the presenter, who has clearly tried to memorize the entire presentation.  You feel your eyelids begin to droop and suddenly you look like this:

Must...stay...awake....during...training.......

Must…stay…awake….during…training…….

As a professional trainer and presenter, this Death by PowerPoint represents something of an occupational hazard.  It’s something that needs to be kept in mind constantly, so that you can try to avoid it.  There are times, such as when your hands are tried by a corporate-designed template, when it presents a real challenge to try to put an engaging presentation together.  But it can be done…and a great webinar I watched last week gives some great tips to help!

Michael Parrish DuDell, professional speaker and author of Shark Tank Jump Start Your Business gave a wonderful webinar titled Captivating the Crowd – How to Create Compelling Presentations that Attract and Engage Clients, Customers and Colleagues.  If you ever have to give presentations, speeches or talks, this webinar is required viewing!  Not only is Michael himself compelling to watch, he gives some wonderful rules to avoid getting trapped into making a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad presentation.

Michael’s first piece of advice comes during the preparation phase; before you even open PowerPoint you need to remember the 3-2-1 rule.  This rule helps put you in the correct frame of mind to build a non-fatal presentation.  First comes three questions you should ask yourself: Who is your audience?  What is your goal? and Why is that goal important?  If you can’t answer these three questions, then you shouldn’t be giving the presentation.  Next comes two rules:  A deck should enhance…it should never explain! and You are a human being…so be a human being!  Nothing is more awkward for the audience than trying to watch someone be something or someone they aren’t.  It’s one of the reasons used car salesmen in commercials are almost painful to watch.  Finally there is one rule:  Connect to your audience.  This one can be particularly difficult for people with stage fright or fear of public speaking, but as Michael points out,

Remember that the audience didn’t come to see you fail.  They came to see you succeed!
– Michael Parrish DuDell

Next, Michael shared Seven Simple Practices to remember as you are building the presentation.

  1.  Simplify…then Simplify again:  Remember, the PowerPoint should enhance…never explain.  This means no paragraphs of text.  Your job as the presenter is to explain the concepts, so make your slides simple.
  2. Develop a Cohesive Narrative:  The power of storytelling has been proven to improve the retention of knowledge of any audience, so make sure you have a beginning, middle and end to the presentation in a flow that works.  And no, just have an introduction and conclusion slide doesn’t cut it.
  3. Remain Consistent and On-Brand:  This is especially important for anyone who, like me, represents a company or institution when giving presentations.  Michael shared with us that he has a preferred color scheme for his clothing that he uses for presentations; he always wears clothes of those colors when he presents to visually represent his personal brand.  It’s a unique and interesting concept…and helps prevent audience distractions while they are staring at you trying to figure out what in the world you are wearing.
  4. Anticipate Your Environment:  This should be common knowledge but is almost forgotten.  Just like a resume should be different for every job you apply for, a presentation on the same topic should be different every time you give it.  The presentation you give to a Board of Directors isn’t going to be the same as for a group of Silicon Valley Techies, and if it is you are doing it wrong.
  5. Lead with Your Strengths:  It will help you build confidence and credibility with the audience, which is an amazing antidote to stage fright.
  6. Prepare for the Best, Plan for the Worst:  Can you still give the presentation if the PowerPoint doesn’t work?  What if the fire alarm goes off in the middle of your talk (I have personally experienced this one!)?  You need to plan for these kinds of eventualities so you won’t be unprepared.
  7. Perform with Confidence, Not Regret:  This was one of his biggest pet peeves, when people open a speech with some variation of “I’m feeling a bit under the weather today” or “We just threw this together last night”.  A lot of presenters think this makes the audience sympathetic towards you…but it really undermines your authority as a speaker on the subject.

If you are following these guides, you will be well on your way to giving excellent presentations.  And if you want some inspiration on how NOT to give a presentation, I have the perfect example:

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