Can you solve presentation problems by switching tools?; Issue #228 February 1, 2011

PowerPoint Tip: Can you solve presentation problems by switching tools?

Many people acknowledge that far too many presentations are not designed or delivered nearly as well as they could be.  So how can we solve this problem?  The solution, say some, is to change the tools we are using.  Throw out PowerPoint because it causes the problems, they claim.  Instead, they say we should use tools like SlideRocket or Prezi, or even switch over to Keynote on the Mac, as one organization did.

So will this finally solve the problem once and for all?  I haven’t seen any evidence that this rush to change tools solves the problem.  I recently got to see my first Prezi presentation live.  Prezi is the latest hot presentation tool that has captured attention.  It allows for non-linear presentations where you scroll across a large canvas, showing each visual in whatever order you want.  In comments made to me afterwards, and my own impression, it was clear that the dizzying scrolling movement did not make the topic any clearer, and actually distracted from the message.

In all of the surveys I have done, the overwhelming response is that the tool is not the issue.  The misuse of the tool, whatever tool is used, is the true problem.  You can create an awful presentation in PowerPoint, but you can also use Keynote, SlideRocket, Prezi or any of a number of other presentation tools to inflict just as much pain on an audience.

The real solution to the problem of ineffective presentations starts with better training for presenters.  Here are some solutions you can use today, with the existing version of PowerPoint you have on your computer.

First, before you open PowerPoint, spend some time thinking about your message.  What do you want the audience to do at the end of the time you have together?  What points do you need to make in order to move the audience from where they are now to where you want them to be?  You will save hours of time by simply getting your message clear before you start using any tool.

Second, use visuals instead of writing everything you are going to say on your slide.  Instead of copying a spreadsheet on to a slide, create a graph.  Instead of listing five steps of a process, use a diagram.  Instead of a wordy description, show a photo.  There are many ways to make the visual you use more effective than a “wall of text” (that’s why I wrote a whole book on it, The Visual Slide Revolution).

Third, if you want to use a non-linear presentation style, use the built-in hyperlinking feature of PowerPoint to enable you to jump between sections as the audience reaction and questions dictate.  I’ve been creating and delivering non-linear presentations for years, so this isn’t a new feature of the latest version of PowerPoint.

Finally, don’t read your slides.  Audiences have told me over and over again that the single most annoying thing a presenter can do is read the slides.  Don’t do it.  If you’ve followed the previous three suggestions, you won’t have all the text on the slide, so you won’t end up reading.  Use the visuals as a starting point and have a conversation with the audience.  It is better for them and easier for you.

The next time someone says that you should try the latest presentation tool that everyone is talking about, keep in mind that it won’t solve the true problems.  Work on creating and delivering better presentations and you will get compliments no matter what tool you choose to use.