Here’s the introduction to my upcoming book, PowerPointless: Interactive Presentation Strategies That Can Free You and Your Audience from the Chains of PowerPoint.
Think about the last ten presentations you attended. How many of the presenters had PowerPoint slideshows that accompanied their talks? Chances are, all of them. We’ve become almost completely dependent on PowerPoint or similar presentation software in our business, training, sales, and educational interactions that we almost can’t conceive of a conference or classroom without the ubiquitous projector, screen, laptop, and remote.
I’m the first person to say that technology is a wonderful thing. I loved, loved, LOVED it when we all switched from terrible hand-made visuals—or somewhat better ones made at Kinko’s at midnight—to electronically-generated slideshows that looked so much better than the hand-made stuff ever had. Even in the hands of design hacks like me who relied far too heavily on bad clip art and Star Wars-like transitions between slides, slideshow software made it possible for everyone to make decent visuals, even on short notice and with no budget. It was a fantastic revolution, and I don’t mean to put down its value in the big scheme of things at all.
Unfortunately, as with most good things, we went too far with it, got too dependent on it, and lost touch with what we were trying to do with it in the first place. We give and attend presentations to connect with each other and build relationships, skills, and knowledge in meaningful and transferrable ways. These days, though, most people’s idea of a good presentation is a slideshow with some schmo blathering beside it. It should be the other way around! The slideshow should simply be a tool that enhances the speaker’s message, not the focus of the show. Too often, the audience ends up reading bullet points off the screen instead of listening to what the speaker has to say about each point. They’re staring at the screen instead of looking at the speaker, whose message is often punctuated by gestures, facial expressions, and other body language cues, as well as anecdotes and insights that are the real heart of the talk. If the slideshow is the primary focus of the presentation and any old speaker could click through and read it, attendees may as well just stay home and download the slideshow; they’d get the same value out of it.
So why do organizations continue to hire real people to speak to their companies or associations in person rather than simply downloading a whole slew of lovely slideshows? They want the speaker’s expertise, experience, and insight. They want the personal connection of a human being interacting with their employees, members, or attendees. They want the emotion, the anecdotes, and the humor a good speaker brings to the room. They want a relationship.
Relationships: I think that’s really what people sense is missing from too many of our modern interactions with each other. We “connect” all the time in networking events, conferences, in social media, and more. But those connections, more and more often, fail to go beyond an exchange of business cards, a mutual follow on Twitter, and a quick add on LinkedIn. We “connect” in these superficial ways, and then we forget about each other for the most part. Most people who attend business or association conferences say that their number one reason for attending is to network. They are seeking more than a pile of business cards and social media friend requests, though. They want real relationships—meaningful ones that lead to mutual benefits for everyone. When relationship-building is a meeting attendee’s primary purpose, the presentations they attend are actually a huge impediment for them, and they enter the room already distracted and wishing the presentation were over before it begins so that they can go back to networking. PowerPoint adds to this problem because it forces the audience to sit quietly, staring at a screen, listening with half their attention at best to the speaker’s words, while at the same time forcing the speaker to stick to a predetermined script, regardless of the needs of the particular audience in the room.
The way to solve this is, clearly, to turn off the projector. When there is no giant screen to focus on, the audience focuses on the speaker and is far more likely to engage with him or her. And when they engage, they’re far more likely to interact. And when they interact, they form relationships with the speaker and each other. This helps new knowledge and concepts to become transferable to their real lives, which means they are more likely to take action and gain true value from the presentation.
PowerPointless presentations aren’t just speakers without slideshows, though. These presentations are highly interactive in nature. A PowerPointless presentation requires the speaker to relinquish a great deal of control to the audience. The speaker must view herself as a facilitator rather than a “sage on the stage” who has all the great ideas to be bestowed upon the empty vessels in the audience. A PowerPointless presenter is prepared to fill the entire time herself, but she hopes she won’t get to say all of her own ideas because her audience is so eager to share their own brilliance with each other. In a way, it’s a crowd-sourced presentation. PowerPointless is an audience-centered, relationship-driven philosophy of in-person communication that’s both old-fashioned and modern in its approach. It uses old-school hands-on techniques, combined with judicious use of technology and online tools, to engage audience members and speakers alike by tapping into their visual, auditory, and tactile learning styles in equal parts. PowerPointless presentations, if done well, are different every time, are genuinely customized to each audience, and usually lead to the speaker learning as much as the attendees. PowerPointless presentations also facilitate those all-important personal interactions and connections that most audience members are seeking.