Powerpoint is Hurting Your Presentation

You just found out you have a presentation to deliver next week. Do you immediately lunge for your computer and open a fresh (or better yet template) Powerpoint file?

That is the go-to for most professionals.

We have it all backward

In this traditional scenario, we open up our slides and proceed to place what we know about the topic. We create an agenda and distinguish sections to pump full of relevant information. We know better than to type paragraphs of text or insert distracting transitions, so we concentrate on making our slides visually appealing. Or, maybe we plan to hand them off to the communications specialist in the office to “pretty-them-up” after we get the content down.

We’re already thinking in terms of design and structure.

Consider how much power this method takes from you and gives to the computer program. I challenge you to step away from Powerpoint (and Keynote, Prezi or your desired platform).

Instead, reframe how you see the task in front of you.

Is it really that you have to deliver a presentation? Isn’t it that your audience has a problem they need your help to solve? And, if the core task is to solve a problem and convey an idea, shouldn’t your focus be on the problem and idea before structure and design?

Why, oh why, do we jump right to fonts, images and transitions?

It’s because since 1987 when Powerpoint was invented, much of the focus of corporate presentations has been on “professionalism” that has come to mean impressing the audience with one’s mastery of the corporate staple.

Focus on the problem

Instead of letting a computer design program dictate our thoughts, let’s focus on the problem and idea instead.

You just found out you have a presentation to deliver problem to solve for a specific audience next week. Look how much more freedom you have with this description than in my introductory sentence.

Now you are able to focus on the problem at hand and defining exactly what your idea is to solve it.

  • What do you know about the problem?
  • What do you know about the audience?
  • What of that pool of knowledge is actually important to the audience?
  • How will you bring them from problem to solution?
  • What do you want them to feel?…

These aren’t easy questions. They require thought, research and planning, before you even decide whether or not to touch Powerpoint. But, rather than focusing on aesthetics, starting with questions gives your idea center-stage. It gives you a clear mind to think creatively about the experience you want your audience to have and the change you want to evoke among everyone you’re engaging. 

After answering those and more subject-specific questions and equipped with a clear objective for what you seek to do through your engagement with this group of people (your audience), only then move into content. And, still, it’s not yet time for Powerpoint.

Free yourself from structural constraints

My go-to planning technique is a brain dump onto sticky notes that can be discarded and arranged in the storyboarding phase. It captures my ideas, references and relevant anecdotes without tying me to a linear structure of this-then-that. I don’t want that structure to begin with. I’m not there yet.

If you can’t bear the thought of tearing your hands away from your computer, concentrate on capturing your thoughts freely with as limited programatic structure as possible. Even a Word document forces you to put some information on top and the rest below; something first, the rest later. This-first-then-that does not help you in the idea phase. Check out milanote.com for some inspiration on non-linear planning. 

By the time you open a Powerpoint, you should be confident you know your audience, you know the problem you are addressing, the idea you are proposing, how you want them to feel, the story you will tell to bring them to your side and adopt your idea, and much more. Only then is it time to don your own design hat or hire a graphic design professional to make sure your slides support you and your idea.

And for the record, I DO think Powerpoint (and Keynote and Prezi) are great tools to support you and your idea. Supporting, thoughtful and purposeful visuals are a major part of a great presentation (and the subject of a future post). They just aren’t the whole thing.

Yes, there is help! 

This may sound daunting to you. The good thing is, I am a presentation-planning nerd who really enjoys this stuff! I get to help talented people recognize how much they really know and channel their knowledge in a way that creates a real impact.

Are you set to present a big idea and want to knock it out of the park?

Or, do several people within your organization need a 101 on how to create effective presentations?

I would love to help! Let’s talk.

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