AS FORMS OF torture go, bad Powerpoint presentations are not as agonizing as water boarding. On the other hand, they are less messy. If you are a newcomer to the practice of boring a crowd, take heart. By following a few simple steps, even a novice can bore to tears the most easily-entertained audience. In no time, you can create presentations as tedious and irrelevant as any you’ve ever had the pleasure of enduring.
- Write down what you want to say.
- Then come up with slides that you figure will “go with” what you wrote down.
- Remember to copy and paste lengthy excerpts from your speech onto your slides. The longer the excerpts and the smaller the type, the better.
- Cram as many photos, charts, graphs, etc. as possible onto every slide.
- Use lots of animation because you can.
- At speech time, keep your eyes glued to your notes and read your text out loud word for word, preferably in a monotone.
or you risk engaging your audience
- Think in terms of concepts to convey. Worry about how to word it later.
- Look for ways to convey the concepts visually. Slides should illustrate, not parrot. Suppose you want to talk about anger. Instead of a slide with the word “anger” on it (and, worse, with the definition under it), show a photo of a cat bearing fangs, a red-faced person with clenched fists, an erupting volcano, a rampaging gorilla, a steaming tea kettle—in short, anything that shows rather than tells. If a slide merely repeats what you’re saying, one of you—you or the slide—is unneeded.
- Surprise ’em every 9 minutes. People tend to tune out at about every 10 minutes. So every 9 minutes or less, introduce an unexpected image. Partway through one of my marketing presentations, I show a picture of a goat. What does the goat have to do with marketing? That’s the point. You have to listen to find out.
- Pair slides with comments for synergy. To illustrate the ineffectiveness of brow-beating as a way to illuminate minds, I once showed a photo of a baseball bat while I said, “This is not a light switch.” Neither was much on its own, but together they had punch. (How could I tell? See Number 10 below.)
- Avoid defaulting to word slides just to have something to put on the screen. Sometimes for emphasis it’s appropriate to display a key phrase or word. But most of the time, when you’re tempted to put a word or paragraph on the screen, it is a sign that you need to think harder for a way to make your point visually.
- Remember that no one can read a screen filled with small type. Nor does anyone want to.
- Overkill kills. Once you’ve made your point, move on. The only time to return to it is in a recap or to reinforce an ongoing theme.
- Only after figuring out how to convey your concepts visually is it OK to write down your remarks. At that point, odds are that something magical will happen. Namely, your remarks will set up and play off of your visuals. You will be on your way to an engaging presentation.
- Rehearse. Smooth speakers aren’t smooth by accident or from sheer talent (though talent helps). They rehearse and rehearse, and then they rehearse. Besides smoothing your delivery, rehearsing will help you avoid committing Speakers Deadly Sin Class D,* namely, going over your allotted time. I am often surprised at the number of one-hour talks that take two, and at how often “just five minutes more” takes 30. Audiences hate speakers who run over, especially at conventions when your talk is all that stands between them and the golf course. Plus, rehearsing lets you...
- Look at your audience every now and then. Constant eye contact isn’t mandatory, but the occasional look around is. There are two reasons for this. One, audiences like being spoken with more than they like being read to. Two, you can gather feedback. If you see yawns, eyes wandering, slouching, or people whispering and passing notes instead of focusing on you, you can change your pace or tone, or at least vow to prepare something better next time. Keeping your eyes glued to your notes robs you of a chance to improve.
- Work on your tone, pacing, and timing. Record yourself so can listen and critique your delivery. (Never mind that your own voice sounds foreign to you. You are accustomed to receiving sound waves of your own voice through bone and tissue, whereas others and your tape recorder receive them through the air.) Is your tone listenable, do you use inflections, do you pause for effect at the right times, do you deliver punch lines with the right timing? It is your job to ensure there is more value in listening to you than there would have been in simply reading your remarks.
- Borrow from the best. Study speakers who hold you rapt. Note the techniques that make them effective, that make pivotal moments work, and adopt them.
If you follow these suggestions, don’t blame me if your audience stays awake and gets what you’re trying to say.
*I haven’t thought up Classes A through C yet, but I’m sure they exist.