One of the unintended consequences of the increased competition of the last few years in the public speaking world is perhaps surprising: it’s becoming harder and harder (at the keynote level) to persuade meeting planners to let the speaker go on stage without PowerPoint or some other such slide software. Their attitude is, “well everyone else has slides, where are yours? If you don’t want to provide them, that’s risky or different enough that maybe we should just go with someone who is willing to provide us with slides.”
The speaking business is a risk-averse business and speeches without slides are perceived as riskier than speeches with them.
As someone who has campaigned for years against the misuse of slide software, I find this trend distressing. In spite of my best efforts, speakers still use the software for speaker notes, making them more about words than images. Speakers still use the software as a crutch for getting through a presentation that they’ve insufficiently prepared. And speakers still throw far too much information on their slides routinely instead of doing the hard work of really figuring out what their talk is about and distilling the essence of it for the audience.
But there’s a further problem with the software, one that’s even more insidious and destructive to good presentations. Because slides are created one at a time, they encourage people to think in terms of vertical slices rather than horizontal storytelling. As such, they promote an ADD approach to presentations at a time when good storytelling is more important than ever to get and hold the attention of an audience.
It’s hard to tell a good story with a slide – or a series of slides. And stories are what we remember – because stories naturally fit our brains. We remember good, emotional stories especially easily. Data is something that we forget just as easily.
That storytelling power is undercut by PowerPoint deck building. The PowerPoint templates encourage bullet points. You create a slide by putting data (or words) on it. Perhaps you find a slide from a co-worker that has a great chart on it. You put the two together. And then you repeat the process until you have enough slides to fill the time allotted. What you now have is a data set, or a set of boxes with bulleted words in them — both hard to deliver in a presentation in an interesting way, and harder still to remember. Your PowerPoint slide creation technique is therefore ensuring that your presentation will be forgettable and boring.
Instead, start with your story. Say it out loud. Tell your story to someone else first, so that you can be sure you have one. See if it holds their interest. Then, capture it in a word doc, or a storyboard, or scratch it with a quill pen on vellum, but whatever you do, create a story first. Make sure it flows horizontally. Then, add some illustrations with a slide program if your story calls for illustrations. Don’t start with PowerPoint – it will only hurt your storytelling and therefore your presentation.