But PowerPoints are NOT Your Presentation

With all the recent emphasis on the design of your PowerPoints (Keynote for the Mac), it's time to revisit the fact that your visuals are NOT your presentation. You and your Point of View are the centerpiece. I think that the emphasis on PowerPoints (we'll call them PP for brevity) is because 2008 WAS a great year for great design with the publication of Garr Reynolds' book "Presentation Zen" and Nancy Duarte's "slide:ology" (both still best sellers on Amazon.) Make no mistake that having powerful and visual support materials is critical to your impact. But it's still your impact - it's not a PP.

Keep in mind that we're talking here about in-person presentations, not PP 'decks' that are designed to be used as a written report. Also, many major conferences think 'decks' when they ask their speakers to send in their PowerPoints in advance. Why? They are NOT their presentation! (This just happened to me, and I did it because the client IS the client. But it misses the point of the experience.)

Unfortunately we find that in about 95% of the cases for most speakers in business today their PP's are the centerpiece of their message. They create their content around their PP's, rather than figuring out what they want to say, and then using PP's, (and videos, and exercises, and SHARP's, etc.) to SUPPORT their presentation.

When it comes to persuasive impact in our communications, it is not through technology, but only with it. YOU are always the centerpiece of your presentation, and no graphically dazzling slide should ever replace you. Nor Twitter stream for that matter.

With all the advances in technology, we must continuously emphasize the critical importance of human confidence in the delivery as well as in the tools of delivery - the primary tool being yourself. With greater "high tech" we need a corresponding increase in "high touch." Think of using videos - embed them in your PPs. And experiment with a live Twitter stream - this can be distracting in a more formal speech but is great for tech/breakout/collaborative sessions. And remember that with this advanced technology and the many more options available for visual support, your confidence and control as the centerpiece has to be even more skilled.

Think of Steve Jobs and why his presentations are so powerful. (He led our Top Ten Communicators of 2005 list, even before the famous iPhone announcement, and was on the list most years since.) While he uses elegantly simple slides and perfectly timed and executed demos, he remains the center of the presentation. Often, (as at the top of the screen here) he will completely clear the screen (using a black slide - that's the way to do it) to keep the audience's attention on his energy, on his enthusiasm, and on his words. Not the PowerPoint's. (Or Keynote's in this case.)

Remembering that you are the presentation, develop visuals that enhance your point of view. After all, visuals are important:

  • "I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand." Cicero
  • 55% of likability - critical component of trust - comes through the visual behavior of the speaker Mehrabian
  • A 500% average increase in retention occurs when visuals are used in a presentation
  • 83% of what we know is learned by seeing and observing

For your own personal and visual impact, see yourself on video. And

when you get to support, for great tips on presentation design, check

out Garr Reynold's blog Presentation Zen and Nancy Duarte's blog slide:ology.

Always keep in mind that you are your most important visual aid.

Train yourself first so that you have a confidence that never quits in

the face of new technology. And then add great design.

19 thoughts on “But PowerPoints are NOT Your Presentation
  1. Bert,
    I’d add that I believe a presentation should be designed WITHOUT slides first. Then add them if there is a compelling and impactful reason.
    PPT is used for all sort of things it was never intended to be used for — documentation, notes, teleprompter. And while considering all available media is good, I think video is seldom used well and is mostly too long with too much idle, ineffectual time.
    I about brought a conference to a standstill when I told them I didn’t have slides (as a speaker). It seemed inappropriate to me since my topic was “engaging audiences”! I finally used your quote “_I_ am the presentation” and they left me alone. And I didn’t care that I didn’t make the proceedings.
    Preaching to the choir…

  2. I use PPT every weekend as I preach, but I only put the bare bones on the slides. I make it a point never to “direct attention to this next slide.” I think you’re right, and I think that the speaker’s personality is the ultimate embodiment of the message.

  3. Hi Allan,
    Thanks for your comments – I searched for you but couldn’t find much under MyllsWyck but found your name and blog. Good material, and I think you’d be interested in the “Black Slides” link above for your clients.

  4. That’s very true! Although I would definitely agree that the main focus of a presentation is the presenter, I wouldn’t deny the importance of a crisp and clearly laid out presentation.

  5. Hi Bert,
    nice post !
    The only thing is : why using the word powerpoint? Why not using “slide show” or “visual”? Powerpoint and Keynote are not the only softwares to prepare slide shows (you could even abreviate it with “SS”). There is also Impress, Opengoo and even LaTeX!
    That is why I strongly suggest you use “Slide Show” instead of “Powerpoint” and “SS” instead of “PP”.
    Thanks anyway for your blog.

  6. Bert,
    Spot on. A presentation is a show, and you (the presenter) are the star. Not your visuals. It’s even worse when presenters put their presentation directly on the screen, negating a need for them to even be there! It’s like giving the audience the script to the movie!
    We have to start separating the vernacular. Too many people use the word “presentation” when referring to their slide deck. They’re not the same thing.

  7. Being a Toastmaster, I enjoyed reading your post. I do have a question though. What purpose does a live Twitter feed serve in a presentation, and what are the benefits of doing that? Do you have any post, which explains this?

  8. Thank you for mentioning Garr in your post. I work for Peachpit Press and thought you and your readers might be interested in knowing that we just released his first online streaming video, Presentation Zen: The Video, where he expands on the ideas presented in his book and blog (espcially on the aspect of delivery and connecting with your audience as a storyteller). More info can be found here: https://www.peachpit.com/Zenvideo

  9. I’ve noticed when attending presentations that because PowerPoint has received such a poor reputation among listeners, they almost yawn when a presenter launches their copy. I often wonder if the presenter will use it effectively, to get ideas from them.
    One thing I do not like is people reading their slides and making us read along. I came to see you, Presenter. What can you give me that your slides can’t?
    I also like to turn off the screen when I’m talking. Once the slide’s purpose is covered, I hit the ‘b’ key. This way, they’re forced to listen to me (hee, hee.) If they want the slides, I’ll gladly give them or email copies afterwards.

  10. I just had to comment about this part:
    >>Unfortunately we find that in about 95% of the cases for most speakers in business today their PP’s are the centerpiece of their message. They create their content around their PP’s, rather than figuring out what they want to say, and then using PP’s.
    I’ve always marveled at the meaningless demand “Must have excellent written and oral communication skills.” In all my years in management and as individual contributor, I’ve never been asked to demonstrate them when applying for a job.
    Conversely, I ask people when they want a position to “audition” for me. When they explain in writing and in person how they will do the job we’re hiring for, they’re demonstrating those very skills.
    I also used to think before ever becoming a manager, I had to be an exemplary speaker. Alas, I’ve seen too many managers fail to connect with their audiences even though their job posting said “Must have excellent written and oral communication skills.”

  11. Harwinder,
    There is a lot being written on live Twitter posts – most in the Twitterverse do not emphasize the distraction. There are a couple of posts here – search Twitter on this blog and you’ll find them.

  12. Hi Glenn,
    Great comments.
    1. Think of using Black Slides instead of the “B” key. (Search for “Black Slides” on blog for method.
    2. I think the “speaking skills” in an interview has tremendous impact at the unconscious level.

  13. Good points in your posting. However, this now leads to the obvious question – how can a PP support the presenter? Steve Jobs does it by minimizing the content of the slide – the slides don’t contain enough info to understand the point – you need to listen to what Steve is saying to fully get the point.
    I think that this is key – if your audience can read the slides and get all of the information, then why are you there? Putting just enough info (but not too much) on the slide so that what you are saying is supported makes the slides a key supplement to your presentation.
    – Dr. Jim Anderson
    The Accidental Communicator Blog
    “Learn How To intimately connect with your audience in order to make an lasting impact in their lives.”

  14. Great post. I have always believed that PP has distracted people from the essential “human element” of a presentation. If words and graphics are all that is needed to get the point across, then send it in an email. Presentations are about connecting with people. PP can support the connection, but it can’t make the connection.

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