Give a business person the task of making a presentation of any kind and they almost invariably turn to PowerPoint or a similar presentation software program. It has become reflex in the business world.
The question is, why?
Two reasons – one good and one bad. And the second reason cancels out the wisdom and effectiveness of the first reason.
Reason one: PowerPoint allows information to be presented in a manner that accords with the learning styles of a large percentage of your audience. This is a good thing, though it’s usually an unconscious factor in the presenter’s decision. But even unconscious and subliminal decision-making counts in a person’s favor.
Reason two: Most people are uncomfortable with public speaking (if not terrified by it) and they use PowerPoint as a means for defraying the intensity of an audience’s gaze. In fact, I’ve seen PowerPoint presenters who spent most of their time with their back to the audience staring at the screen. This is a bad reason for choosing PowerPoint because it means the advantages offered by the program are largely nullified by the instinct to hide behind the slides.
Let’s dig a little more deeply into these two factors and find out a bit more about their pros and cons.
Some people are auditory learners while others are visual learners. In other words, some people learn best when being told something, while others have to be shown what a teacher or presenter is trying to convey. Still others are tactile/experiential learners, people who need to touch and do things to learn most effectively. PowerPoint, when properly used, conveys information in a format that is easily absorbed and retained by auditory and visual learners. It allows you to show as well as tell. (Add some interactive objects or other handouts to your presentation and you can engage the tactile/experiential learners as well.)
For these reasons, using PowerPoint for your presentations makes very good sense, despite its ubiquity.
Unfortunately, far too many people use PowerPoint for the latter reason, to defray the stage fright that often comes with public speaking. The natural inclination in this circumstance is to direct as much of the audience’s attention as possible to the slides. This throws the presentation out of balance by placing too much emphasis on the visual (whether written or visual images appear on the slides) and too little on the auditory, the presenter’s narrative. The presenter sometimes becomes a secondary player in this scenario.
PowerPoint becomes a crutch that dominates the presentation, rather than a tool that assists a presenter who is fully in command of the proceedings. Presenters should never play a subordinate role to their PowerPoint deck. Doing so diminishes the effectiveness of the presenter, as well as the effectiveness of the PowerPoint slides. It also ensures that you’ll never be regarded a commanding presence and dynamic presenter. That can hurt your career.
So step out front. Play a leading role. Let your slides do little more than cue the audience with strong visuals while you provide a compelling narrative. It will build a stronger connection with your audience and enhance your prestige and authority.