PPT, a dangerous medicine

Like all good medicines, PowerPoint can make things better — but only when it’s correctly administered.

Diageo’s new CMO, James Thompson, took a bold decision after spending the first two months of his tenure sitting through endless presentations where PowerPoint was being administered in liberal doses. But was he right?

Many would say unequivocally ‘yes’. The symptoms suffered by sitting through a dull PowerPoint presentation are all too familiar: life-threatening boredom, profound drowsiness and presentation amnesia. Slides are often so verbose that audiences read them – instead of listening to what’s being said. Or, worse still, they give up on either option.

But used in the right measure – and at the apropriate time – PowerPoint can inject life into a presentation, making it more powerful and its efficacy more enduring.

So how can we ensure we’re using this tool in the right doses?

Be the hero

There are many ways of sharing information and new technologies are fast adding to them. Amid the change, we risk forgetting what presentations are all about: personal communication and connection. People have chosen to be in a room together to talk, to listen and to interact, so the speaker should always be the ‘hero’ of the presentation. Resist the temptation to keep turning to the screen behind you for verification – you’ll command the room more easily if you face forward and engage with people.

Use images better

We process images much more quickly than we can read. Great images can tell entire stories in nanoseconds. Graphs and charts can provide insight into a trend instantly. PowerPoint is very often a medium for death-by-bullet points – rather than a way of delivering impactful visuals. Don’t underestimate the impact of a single photograph, particularly when supported by an interesting explanation.

When PowerPoint goes wrong it is usually because we try to make it multi-task. Not only do we want to use it as a visual aid, but also as notes for the speaker, as well as a handout to be distributed after the presentation. PowerPoint can complete all these tasks well, but decidedly not at the same time. A handout has to stand alone, without the benefit of someone explaining it, whereas slides for a presentation are brought to life by the presenter.

Never double up

Used in the right doses, PowerPoint can do wonders. But by trying to multi-task, PowerPoint becomes unfit for any one purpose. And fails.

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Sandra Davis

Director, Coaching

Sandra leads on Bladonmore’s presentation coaching. As a close advisor to senior management at organisations including Land Securities, Rio Tinto and GE, she helps leaders to articulate their message and ensure it cuts through.

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