Microsoft’s PowerPoint software has gotten a bum rap as insufficient for your presentation visuals.
This unfair reputation springs from the thousands of ugly presentations given every day from folks who don’t know how to use it.
And yet, PowerPoint is a brilliant tool.
But any tool – say, a hammer or saw – can contribute to the construction of a masterpiece . . . or of a monstrosity.
PowerPoint either contributes to the creation of an especially powerful presentation, or it becomes the weapon of choice to inflict yet another heinous public-speaking crime on a numbed audience.
Presentation Visuals to Rivet the Audience
PowerPoint isn’t the problem. Clueless presenters are the problem.
So just how do you use PowerPoint as the basis for your presentation visuals?
This short video reviews several of my own techniques that provide basic guidance on sound PowerPoint use. It’s just a few minutes, but what might you learn to turn your presentation frown upside down!
At times, even the finest presenters get themselves in trouble. Having this rescue device near to hand can salvage a speech that is careening off-course, that is flirting with disaster.
Your Life Preserver
Occasionally we must be reminded of this quite simple device that can serve us well near the end of our talk.
When your talk is winding down and you feel yourself suddenly spent . . .
When you begin to spiral out of control and cannot remember your train of thought . . .
When your pulse quickens and your mind goes blank . . .
Grasp for two words.
“In conclusion . . .”
That’s it. Just two words.
A Pithy Presentation Conclusion
These two words have rescued thousands of presenters before you. They’ll rescue you as well.
These two words work a magic on your psyche that is almost inexplicable in terms that a logical, reasonable person would believe. Speak them, the path to the end of your talk becomes clear.
Speak them, and suddenly you know what to say and do.
Here is what you do. Confidently tack on another phrase . . .
“In conclusion, we can see that . . .”
“In conclusion, our recommendation makes sense for reasons just given . . .”
“In conclusion, this means that . . .”
See how it works?
You see how incredibly easy it is to get out of the sticky wicket of a talk spiraling down out of control? To craft a presentation conclusion with punch?
“In conclusion” leads you out of the wilderness. It puts you back onto your prepared path. It leads you to restate your thesis in concise manner and then . . .
. . . stop!
But you’re not done building your Personal Competitive Advantage by improving your business presentation skills. Consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presentingfor more on especially powerful techniques on the presentation conclusion.
Over the years, I’ve learned that the zombies of bad presentation advice never die.
We can’t eradicate bad presentation advice completely, because these zombies are impervious to every remedy known to 21st century civilization.
When Armageddon finally comes, cockroaches and bad advice zombies will be the only survivors.
But let’s give it a shot anyway.
Zombies of Bad Presentation Advice
The process of becoming a great presenter is not so much doing things the right way. It’s getting you – yes, you – to stop doing things the wrong way.
This is much tougher than you might expect.
This is because 1) people generally dislike the idea of change, and 2) many folks tend to think that the presentation is something that exists outside of themselves . . . in a PowerPoint software package, or in notecards, or in a book.
The notion that the presenter actually has to change is not welcome news.
Not at all.
Accordingly, I instruct students to just stop what they do now as a result of bad habits and bad advice. Just stop.
That’s much more difficult than it sounds.
And we don’t engage in lengthy discussions of various opinions of what constitutes good presenting or how people want leeway granted for their own tics or habits. This is not a time for a “conversation on presenting.”
All it takes is one film session to disabuse people of the notion that a bad habit is somehow acceptable.
Once they stop engaging in bad habits and misconceptions about presenting, they become de facto reasonably competent presenters.
Just stop the bad habits, and what remains can be reasonably good.
But Bad Habits Die Hard
Bad habits can be perpetuated by exuberantly following bad advice. The problem is recognizing what constitutes bad advice.
This isn’t easy, because much bad advice paradoxically masquerades as good advice, and lots of these bad advice zombies stalk the land.
Here are some of the most common examples of awful, vague, or incomplete presentation advice you invariably hear during your business school career from the most well-meaning of folks.
ZOMBIE #1 “Don’t Put your hand in your pocket . . . it looks ‘unprofessional.’”
This is absurd and carries the stink of oral tradition about it.
From presidents to preachers, the hand in the pocket – if done properly – conveys assurance and confidence.
For many speakers, it also removes one hand from the equation as an unnecessary distractor.
Put that left hand in the pocket and you keep it out of trouble.
No more strange finger-play.
No more tugging at your fingers.
No more twisting and hand-wringing. It leaves your right hand free to gesture, and those gestures themselves appear more decisive.
ZOMBIE #2 “Make eye contact.”
This advice is insidious in that it actually carries a large kernel of truth.
It sounds reasonable.
But it doesn’t tell you how to do it. And, yes, there is such a thing as bad eye contact.
Too long, and you come across as creepy. Too short, and you come across as untrustworthy.
Make eye contact with people in your audience long enough to ascertain eye color, then move on.
ZOMBIE #3 “Move around when you talk”
This gem was given to me by a student, passed on from one of his other professors.
This advice suggests that you wander aimlessly about the stage in hopes that it will improve your presentation in some unspecified way. Or it might mean to roll your shoulders as you step side-to-side.
It actually can mean most anything, and as such, it’s terrible advice.
In this case the bad advice is worse than no advice at all. See my previous posts on movement for ideas on how to incorporate movement into your talk . . . and how to incorporate pauses for effect.
ZOMBIE #4 “Just the facts.”
Really? Which facts are those?
What does it mean, “Just the facts?”
Folks believe that this phrase makes them appear no-nonsense and hard-core. But a more pompous and simultaneously meaningless phrase has yet to be devised.
Again, it means nothing and is arrogance masquerading as directness.
“Facts” must be selected in some way, and context must be provided to give them meaning. “Facts” must be analyzed to produce alternatives and to render a conclusion.
This is a euphemism for “I don’t like what you’re saying . . . tell me what I want to hear.”
ZOMBIE #5 “The numbers tell the story.”
This is a favorite of finance folks, who seem to believe that the ironclad rules of presentations do not apply to them.
“We’re special,” finance majors like to say. “We don’t deal with all of that soft storytelling; we deal in hard numbers.”
There is so much wrong with this, it is difficult to locate a reasonable starting-point.
Not only do numbers, alone, tell no story at all . . . if the numbers were conceivably capable of telling a story, it would be a woefully incomplete story, a distortion of reality.
Numbers provide just one piece of the analytical puzzle, important to be sure, but not sufficient by themselves.
Moreover, the business presenter who elects to serve the god of numbers sacrifices the power and persuasiveness that go with a host of other presenting techniques. Underlying this myth is the notion that you “can’t argue with numbers.”
You certainly can argue with numbers, and you can bring in a wealth of analysis that changes completely what those numbers actually mean.
ZOMBIE #6“You have too many slides.”
How do you know I have “too many” slides?
Say what? You counted them?
I assure you that you don’t know. You can conclude nothing about my presentation by looking only at the number of slides in it.
You will hear this chestnut from folks who believe that the length of a presentation dictates the number of slides you use.
Absurd on its face, people who use this believe that every slide will be shown a fixed amount of time.
They likely do some sort of calculation in their heads, dividing the time available by the number of slides to yield a number they believe indicates there are “too many” slides.
This is because they usually deal with folks unschooled in Business School Presentations methods.
If you follow the presentation principles laid down here in Business School Presentations, you will learn the glorious method of crafting frugal slides that pulse with power, surge with energy . . . slides that people remember, because they are smartly crafted. They snap and pop, and they carry your audience along for an exciting ride.
And no one can tell anything about this by the number of slides in your presentation.
Bad Advice Zombies – these are just some that will come after you.
It’s probably not a good idea to argue with folks who give this sort of presentation advice. What’s the use? Just ignore it and replace it in your own work with enduring and especially powerful presenting principles – especially powerful presentation advice.
You can’t eliminate the zombies, but you can outrun them and outfox them.
And continue your upward trajectory toward becoming a superior business presenter.
Some experts estimate that you have an initial 15 seconds – maybe 20 – to hook your audience for your business presentation.
And with a kaleidoscope of modern-day distractions, you face an uphill battle.
In that short window of less than a minute, while they’re sizing you up, you must blast into their minds. You must get them über-focused on you and your message.
So how do you go about hooking and reeling in your audience in those first crucial seconds?
Think of your message or your story as your explosive device. To set it off properly, so it doesn’t fizzle, you need a detonator.
This is your “lead” or your “grabber.”
This is your detonator for blasting into the mind.
This is a provocative line that communicates to your listeners that they are about to hear something uncommon.
With this provocative line, you create a desire in your audience to hear what comes next. The next sentence . . . and the next . . . until you are deep into your presentation and your audience is with you stride-for-stride.
“Thank you, thank you very much . . .”
But they must step off with you from the beginning.
You get them to step off with you by blasting into the mind. You don’t blast into the mind with a stock opening like this:
“Thank you very much, Bill, for that kind and generous introduction. Friends, guests, associates, colleagues, it’s a real pleasure to be hear tonight with so many folks committed to our cause, and I’d like to say a special hello to a group of people who came down from Peoria to visit with us here this evening, folks who are dedicated to making our world a better place, a more sustainable world that we bequeath to our children and our children’s children. And also a shout-out to the men and women in the trenches, without whose assistance . . .”
That sort of thing.
Folks in your audience are already checking their email. In fact, they’re no longer your audience.
And you’ve heard this kind of snoozer before, far too many times.
Why do people talk this way? Because it’s what they’ve heard most of their business lives.
You hear it, you consider it, you shrug, and you think that this must be the way it’s done.
You come to believe that dull, monotone, stock-phrased platitudes comprise the secret formula for giving a keynote address, an after-dinner speech, or a short presentation.
You come to believe that a listless audience is natural.
Not at all!
So How to Hook Your Audience?
The key is to do a bit of mind-blasting.
You must blast into their minds to crack that hard shell of inattention.
You must say something provocative, but relevant. You must grab your listeners and keep them. Hookthem. You must arrest their attention long enough to make it yours.
Something like this:
“The gravestone was right where the old cobbler said it would be . . . at the back of the overgrown vacant lot. And when I knelt down to brush away the moss and dirt, I could see my hand trembling. The letters were etched in granite and they became visible one by one. My breath caught when I read the inscription–”
Or this . . .
“There were six of them, my back was against the hard brick wall, and let me tell you . . . I learned a hard lesson–”
Or this . . .
“I was stupid, yes stupid. I was young and impetuous. And that’s the only excuse I have for what I did. I will be ashamed of it for the rest of my life–”
Or this . . .
“At the time, it seemed like a good idea . . . but then we heard the ominous sound of a grinding engine, the trash compactor starting up–”
Or this . . .
“She moved through the crowd like shimmering eel cuts the water . . . I thought that she must be a special woman. And then I knew she was when she peeled off her leather jacket . . . and, well–”
You get the idea.
Each of these mind-blasters rivets audience attention on you. Your listeners want to hear what comes next.
Of course, your mind-blaster must be relevant to your talk and the message you plan to convey. If you engage in theatrics for their own sake – just to hook your audience to no good end – you earn the enmity of your audience, which is far worse than inattention.
So craft an initial mind-blaster to lead your audience from sentence to sentence, eager to hear your next one. And you will have succeeded in hooking and holding your listeners in spite of themselves.