If you go to work or to school, attend church or lectures, or do anything that requires you to sit in an audience while someone speaks to you on a particular topic, the chances are pretty good that you’ve had to sit through a PowerPoint presentation. “There are more than 500 million PowerPoint users today” to quote an article on Technorati.com, and the number is growing. PowerPoint has become the de facto standard for anyone who has to speak before an audience, large or small. This is not surprising, you probably already know it, but what you may not know is that most people who use PowerPoint are using it wrong. How can this be?
PowerPoint is pretty easy to use, right? It comes with templates so you don’t need to design anything; you don’t need to be a graphic artist because the powerpoint presentation design is already done for you when you use a built-in template. All you have to do is slap in some images you grabbed off the web or your camera, add in your bullet points, and you’re good to go. Or are you?
Using a built in template may not be so bad, even if it’s a little uninspired; the real problem happens when you add those bullets. Let’s face it; they’re going to go straight into your audience with deadly accuracy. And few things can kill a great presentation like bullet points. Think I’m joking? Check out what bullet points can do to one of the greatest speeches of the 20th century, Reverend Martin Luther King Junior’s “I Have a Dream” speech, on the Huffington Post.
Ok, I’ll admit it, the words have been tweaked to add a bit of corporate jargon too, but the bullet points bear a fair amount of the responsibility for killing this speech. Just imagine Reverend Martin Luther King Junior’s speech, sans jargon, if he’d used PowerPoint slides with bullet points. Scary, isn’t it?
Now, if you’re ready to jump on the “PowerPoint is evil” bandwagon, hold on a minute. PowerPoint itself is not to blame; it’s just misunderstood. Almost every speech and presentation can be enhanced by pictures to illustrate it and establish an emotional connection with the audience. In fact, an article in Business 2 Community (B2C) entitled; “Putting the Power Back in PowerPoint” describes this nicely, stating “PowerPoint strengthens your message by engaging the audience with strong visual images that tell a story.” The secret to effectively using PowerPoint, then, is leveraging its visual potential.
The real problem pops up when the presenter insists on adding a lot of text, usually as bullet points, and creates cognitive dissonance for their audience; everyone is reading while the presenter is speaking and the two (audio and visual) don’t match up. The end result is usually less attention to the content rather than more, and an emotional disconnection, rather than a connection.
So what’s the bottom line? The secret to understanding and using PowerPoint correctly is to go for the visuals. Leave your bullets at home; don’t put them in your slides.