There is a striking dichotomy between what people say and what people do regarding PowerPoint.
When I ask participants in my presentation skills classes what bothers them the most as they sit in the audience listening to a presenter, they invariably say, "...too many words/bullet points/text on the slides." When I probe to uncover why that behavior is so annoying, I get responses like:
- It makes it more likely that the presenter will read most of his slides.
- It's too distracting to have that much information visible...I can't concentrate on what the speaker is saying and read at the same time.
- The type is so small I can't read it.
- The presenter isn't adding any value to what's on the slide...why didn't she just send me the PowerPoint deck?
Yet the puzzling part is that when these same participants start working on their own presentations, they typically have way too many words on the slides.
So why the disconnect between audience attitude and speaker behavior?
I think the big reason is that overloaded PowerPoint slides are so ubiquitous and standard operating procedure, many people are afraid to deviate from the method that everyone else uses...even though they know, from the perspective of audience member, this method is not effective. [Read about more reasons in Olivia Mitchell's excellent analysis].
I also think that most presenters care about having an impact, care about engaging their audience and are looking for opportunities to improve. But they may not be prepared to go totally "Garr Reynolds" with simple, elegant graphics, numerous pictures and minimal text.
So I suggest the following steps to course participants as a way to test the waters:
- In preparing the presentation and slides, put your audience hat on and think about how you would respond to those text heavy slides.
- Try changing just a couple of slides to start with. Perhaps pick a complex point in your presentation or an aspect that always generates a lot of questions; develop another way besides text to display this information, like a chart, graph or image that symbolizes your meaning.
- Then assess how the audience responds to the information in this format. Do they understand better? Do they have fewer questions or are the questions different? Do they seem more engaged?
- Solicit feedback from audience members to validate what you observed.
What kinds of experiences have you had using a PowerPoint format markedly different from the norm?