Ever see this? People presenting at a meeting or pitching to clients will click to a slide, look at the audience, and then turn back to the slide. It’s like they’re expecting the audience to be dazzled by their insight as they read each bullet point aloud before moving to the next slide.
When one of my clients made the mistake of reading her slides point by point for half an hour at a company meeting, her manager had to save the presentation by handling the wrap-up. My client sucked the air out of the room by not engaging the audience; therefore, no one listened to her.
What they remembered was her manager’s three-minute synopsis–and that she appeared to not know her material. Her manager hadn’t prepped her on how to present the material, make the slides relevant to the audience, and talk through each slide to amplify the most salient points. Her presentation lost its power, and she lost credibility.
PowerPoint is a tool. You–not the slides–carry the message. Here are three steps to block this bad habit:
1. Don’t be a tool.
PowerPoint presentations (in the olden days) were how content was delivered during a speaking engagement. Today, slides are used to convey a concept that you, the speaker, will talk through.
The slides do not carry the entire message–that’s your job. You will miss opportunities if you load your slides with irrelevant and overly detailed information that you read aloud verbatim.
Stop being a tool–let go of your slide-reading dependency. You have 30 seconds to grab the audience’s attention. Even the best slide in the world can’t enchant an audience. Instead, state why you’re there by telling your audience what to expect upfront: “This is what I’m here for, and this is my request.”
Be super clear in the very beginning about the “red thread” you’re stitching together–your main point–and why it’s important to them (and to you).
Think about it: When you’ve had a full meal, you have no room for dessert. Don’t overload your audience members until they’re stuffed. Tell them what you want from them in the beginning so they save room at the end.
2. Stop the PowerPoint pivot.
Another client, who is super dynamic and extroverted, wasn’t prepared for his presentation. He relied on cues from his PowerPoint instead of carrying the message himself.
After saying something like “What we need to do to solve this is X,” he’d take a pause, pivot, look back at the slide, and then pivot back to the audience with “So, what this means is….”
He looked a little bit like a puppet going back and forth. Although he knew what he wanted to say was in the bullet points, he hadn’t focused on his own flow.
To avoid his fate, be prepared. Bring note cards or make notes in your PPT, if needed. Read the signals in the room–who’s with you, and who doesn’t care? Use pauses and tone to pace your talk accordingly.
Strategically punctuate your words to push and pull with language to bring the audience along with you to your call to action. Move your body to move your audience.
3. Identify each slide’s main point.
Each slide has to have relevance, a main point–something that pushes the audience to consider something. The slide can’t just be there because you need it as a cue for your next slide. If this is your practice, stop it.
When using text in a slide, the main point is the title of that slide, not a swarm of information for the audience to decipher. Beyond the title, the slide needs to carry consolidated supporting points. While the average slide has 40 words on it, less is more–always.
Lastly, step away from your computer when crafting your presentation. Use Post-it notes to configure and distil your points to the core of your presentation. Use those notes to architect your slides by placing them in the order that will get you to your call to action. One place to start is to get your head around what you want from the audience.
To nail your presentation, take off the PowerPoint bell-bottoms, slip into some skinny jeans, and let a compelling speaker–you–take center stage.