Is this common misconception hurting your pitching power?

Recently, I was forced to insert myself into a conversation to defend the honour of PowerPoint; unfortunately, too frequent an occurance in the lives of the Show & Tell team. Being first-hand witnesses to the ability of a good presentation to swing business decisions, attract investments and captivate an audience, it is a matter of principle for us to come to this under-appreciated tool’s assistance.

To give some background to what inspired this post, two of my friends were discussing an upcoming presentation which one of them was soon to deliver and desired to deliver well. The other was suggesting that if she wanted to get her message across effectively, she should not use any slides at all. TRIGGERED! Overhearing this, I had to pull on my cape and jump (somewhat rudely) into their conversation.

Accusing PowerPoint, or any other slide creation tool, of being the culprit for a poor presentation is akin to a doctor who lost a patient on the operating table blaming the table for her errors.

While the conversation/argument continued for only a couple of minutes, the reasons why slide decks have gained such a negative reputation has been something I have been pondering for the last few days (more accurately, the last several years).

Here are three assumptions why and what you can do to break the stereotypes.

Presentations are boring

Over the years, lazy presenters have successfully shifted the blame for their lacklustre presentations onto their innocent slide deck. So much so that all decks have been labelled as “boring” and “time wasters”. In fact some people refuse to attend meetings where slides are being presented (WHAAAT)!

A presentation deck is not boring, a presenter maybe! Many argue that even good speakers/presenters become dull as ditch water when using slides (sadly, I have witnessed it too). However, the statement stands!

Very often, as presenters, we tend to opt out of scripting and practicing because we have the safety net of the slide to prompt us on what needs to be said. This lack of preparation results in an adlibbed delivery in which the presenter rambles on rather than trying to convey a message or connect with the audience. The presenter stops being a communicator and instead become a translator, passing on facts and figures to the audience and leaving them to make their own inferences and judgements.

A good presenter will use the deck to complement her message and delivery – to double down and reinforce to the audience the message that she wants them to leave the meeting with. The minute you start to do this, your presentation style, approach and delivery change and your presentations are no longer boring.

Presentations lack emotion

A common argument that we face in our battles is that presentations lack emotion. This is hard to refute when you are on stage and the slide deck being projected larger than life is whiter than a ghost and is host to 10 neatly arranged bullet points – bleurgh!

The argument we make to this is: Who made you use white slides with bullet points?! And NO – the solution is not black slides with bullet points! The cause of this problem is again rooted in a lack of preparation.

When the presenter is focusing on trying to think of what needs to be said on the spot, and possibly over-selling each point to get a positive affirmation from every audience member, it is easy to forget to build in vocal variety, eye contact and stories that get the audience engaged. As you bring in stories and think about your content, you can find novel ways to connect with your audience by using visual hooks (e.g. when talking about a big problem faced by the customer, put up a picture of an elephant). Visual hooks create connections between the content and preconceived notions that people have (e.g. an elephant will showcase how big the problem is).

Whenever, your slides come before your message, content and script, you are going to find that the delivery will lack the human connection which audiences crave.

Presentations are monotonous

Finally, many people argue that slides are monotonous. This issue does lie partly with the presentation tools. In order to “standardise” slides and make life “easier”, these tools offer the option to create master slides and slide templates which stifle the creative juices.

While templates and master slides do offer a degree of consistency and speed up deck preparation time, they come at a high cost – the loss of your audience’s attention.

The solution? Do not use slide master or templates. Let your creative juices flow and be unique, novel and unexpected on each slide (while keeping to some basic design best practices – we will put out an article on that sometime soon). The minute you start being creative, you will find that your deck rarely has two slides that look similar one after the other. Your audience is kept guessing as to what they will see next and this keeps them attentive and engaged.

So next time you decide to defame the good name of presentation decks – first check if any of the Show & Tell team are around to avoid fisticuffs, and second, don’t prematurely judge presentations until you have gotten them done by professionals!