So What’s the Right Way to Use PowerPoint?
Readers of this blog will know that I often take on PowerPoint (and its cousins) as detrimental to speech giving. It’s probably time for a corrective blog, especially after my “Imagine there’s no PowerPoint” spoof of last week.
Let’s be clear. Slides, done right, can greatly strengthen a presentation.
So what’s the right way to use PowerPoint and the other slide software programs? Think of musicals. A character breaks into song when the emotions are too strong for mere words. Songs in a musical mark the high points of the story – when the characters fall in love, or discover the truth about themselves, or decide to leave home.
Slides in a speech should cover the same ground. If you’re talking about a person, a picture of that person will bring him or her into the room in a way that mere words won’t. If you’re discussing some part of the world with enormous visual impact, then go for the visual impact. A client we’re particularly fond of has climbed Mount Everest, and I was the first person in line demanding pictures. Those pictures are most likely the closest I’ll ever get to that mountain, and they had to be in the speech.
More subtly, if you’re talking about a situation that invokes human emotion – one of great happiness or sadness – then pictures can bring that emotion immediately into play in a way that words do not. Ask any fundraiser about the importance of pictures of children to various charitable appeals!
More prosaically, use slides when you’re illustrating complex numbers or numerical relationships – a chart or graph can show in a glance a relationship that’s much harder to describe in words. But don’t fall into the trap of putting all your data on the screen. Just as a presentation should tell us what’s important, not tell us everything there is to be said on a subject, a good slide should show us the one or two important numbers, not the entire data set just because you have it.
It’s the speaker’s job to tell a convincing story, one with a single clear point, to the audience. Use slides to help reinforce that single point and that story. Don’t use slides as agenda place-holders, speaker notes, or bulleted lists of things you couldn’t be bothered to narrow down to the important one. Don’t make the audience work harder than you. Your job is to make a persuasive case for a point of view, not to drown your audience in data, and that goes for the speech and the slides.