PowerPoint Does Not Make You a Speaker

"I have PowerPoint"
"I can produce cool looking PowerPoint Slides"
"Therefore I am a speaker who can represent my organization to others"

The above faulty logic has led to a flood of poor presentations that waste time and cost organizations millions of dollars in lost sales and productivity every year. The flaw in the above logic should be obvious, but for too many managers and professionals, the above logic is accepted without question.

If you own a hammer and a saw, does that make you a skilled carpenter? Of course not you say. You need more than tools to be a carpenter. You need training in use of the tools, experience using the tools in the context of making furniture and a passion for the piece you are making. If it is so obvious in carpentry, why isn’t it obvious when it comes to presentations?

But some will argue that PowerPoint is a software tool that should be treated differently than hand tools. OK, how about this analogy. Just because you have a word processor like Word installed on your computer, does that make you a novelist or author? Of course not you say. You need skill at writing, passion for the topic and an ability to make words come alive off the page. Again I state, if it is so obvious for Word, why is it not obvious for PowerPoint?

I think the answer lies in a commonly held fear of public speaking. The fear of speaking in front of a group is so common and so intense that people will look for any way to help overcome it. And PowerPoint is just the latest convenient way to do so. Thirty years ago, overhead transparencies were the crutch that people used. But the prevalence of PowerPoint has made this particular crutch available to more people than ever before.

Many great speeches are given without any visual aid at all. Just look at the classic speeches by Martin Luther King Jr., Winston Churchill or John F. Kennedy. None of them used PowerPoint. Did the absence of visuals hurt their speech? Not one bit.

If you are asked to give a presentation, the best way to overcome the fear of speaking is to be so comfortable with your material and message that it becomes a conversation with the audience. Don’t even consider what visual support may be useful until you have thought through the structure and content of the message. When you have your key points and supporting sub-points outlined, then consider whether PowerPoint will help bring the points to life by adding a visual dimension to your presentation.

When creating your slides, keep good design principles in mind. Pick contrasting colors, use big enough fonts, and avoid the annoying animation and sounds. And since you will know your topic so well, you can avoid the trap that many presenters fall into which is to use PowerPoint as a teleprompter. They have all of their text on the slide and simply read each slide to the audience. Audiences cite this as the most annoying thing a presenter could do. Keep the text to key ideas that you will expand on with what you say.

The cost of the faulty logic that having PowerPoint makes you a speaker is twofold. There is the cost of preparing the presentation that won’t be effective and the bigger cost of everyone’s time that is wasted watching the ineffective presentation. And in any medium or large sized organization, these costs run into the millions per year.

I believe that PowerPoint can be a valuable way to express ideas and concepts that add to the understanding of an audience. But the use of PowerPoint as a crutch to overcome the fear of speaking has given PowerPoint a bad reputation. It’s not the tool that is the problem, it is the use of the tool. Just like a good hammer in the hands of an unskilled person hits more thumbs than nails, PowerPoint in the hands of a presenter unaware of how to use it causes pain to those who are forced to sit through the presentation.

Increase your effectiveness and productivity by properly thinking through each presentation and using PowerPoint appropriately to add to the message you are delivering. And stop inflicting "Death by PowerPoint" upon your audiences.