Why is so much Bad PowerPoint out there in the corporate world?
I suspect that the reason for this is mimicry and corporate incest.
In the absence of good habits within an organization, bad habits perpetuate themselves, especially if senior leadership is the culprit. If the model within a firm is average or below-par, then this becomes the norm.
In this way, bad presenting breeds more bad presenting.
We unfortunately do not license users for competence or require that candidates complete a PowerPoint safety course to ensure that they commit minimal damage. As a result, bad PowerPoint technique thrives.
Mimicry Breeds Mediocrity
The natural tendency of people is to mimic the boss. They accept his style as proper. While this may serve you well as a corporate survival tool, it stunts your personal growth. Like any principle, it can be followed mindlessly, or it can serve you well if you are judicious.
Such is the case with PowerPoint. People see “professionals” use this tool in gross fashion, and they copy the bad technique.
They think it’s “the way to do it.”
I’m certain that this is how students develop such bad habits.
Some corporate vice president or successful entrepreneur shows up at your school unprepared to deliver a talk, believing that his professional achievements are enough to impress you. He or she believes that preparation is unnecessary, that faux spontaneity can carry the day.
They feel no drive to deliver a satisfying talk.
This worthy believes that anything he says will be treated as business gospel. Who can blame you for copying him and his bad habits?
But bad habits they are, and they span the disciplines. They run rampant the length of the corporate ladder. I separate these bad habits and actions into two broad categories – 1) the PowerPoint material itself, and 2) your interaction with that material during your presentation.
Let’s look at that first point.
Especially Bad PowerPoint
Oftentimes, students throw together a half-dozen makeshift slides. They cut-and-paste them from a written report with dozens of bullet points peppered throughout.
You’ve probably done this yourself. The results are slides that confuse the audience rather than reinforce your major points and which are delivered in awful, mind-numbing presentations.
There is a cost for serving up what designer Nancy Duarte calls bad slides . . .
“Making bad slides is easy, and it will negatively impact your career. Invest in your slides, but invest in your own visual skills as well. The alternative is to inadvertently commit career suicide.”
Absent specific instruction, you might believe that it’s acceptable to cut and paste graphics from a written report onto a slide. You then project that slide onto the screen while you talk about it. Usually prefacing what you say with the words “As you can see . . . .”
The results are usually poor, if not downright heinous. This is what I call the “As you can see” syndrome: AYCSS. It’s a roadmap to disaster.
But the insidious part is that no one tells you the results are disastrous. And they do not tell you what makes your creation an abomination.
So let’s discuss the types of issues you face in assembling your show.
What Makes Bad PowerPoint?
Start by recognizing that no slide show can substitute for a lack of ideas, a lack of preparation, and lack of a story to tell. PowerPoint cannot rescue you with its colors, sound, and animation.
This view is akin to Hollywood filmmakers who spend millions of dollars on dazzling computer generated special effects and neglect the story. The films flop, one after the other. Yet Hollywood does not get the message.
You can craft a winning film with a superb story and drama, but with minimal special effects: See 12 Angry Men. You cannot craft a winning film with no story or a bad story populated with people you don’t care about and who are buffeted by dangers and threats contrived by Industrial Light and Magic.
And it’s the same with your presentation.
Likewise, Aileen Pincus, a superb presentation coach, tells us that “Slides are not a magic pill; they won’t organize a disorganized presentation; they won’t give a point to a presentation that doesn’t really have one; and they never make a convincing presentation on their own.”
Start improving your slides and your use of them today. Implement the following three-step remedy.
Orient . . . Eliminate . . . Emphasize
First, orient your audience to the overall financial context.
If you take information from a balance sheet or want to display company profit growth for a period of years, then briefly display the balance sheet in its entirety to orient the audience. Tell the audience they view a balance sheet.
Walk to the screen and point to the information categories. Say “Here we have this number” . . . “Here we have this category.”
Second, eliminate everything on the screen that you do not talk about. If you do not refer to it, it should not appear on your slide. Strip the visual down to the basic numbers and categories you use to make your point.
Sure, put the entire balance sheet or spreadsheet on your first slide, tell your audience what it is to provide context, and then click to the next slide, which should contain only the figures you refer to.
Third, emphasize the important points by increasing their size, coloring them, or bolding the numbers. You can illustrate the meaning of the numbers by utilizing a chart or graph.
It is incredibly easy to do the above, if you know to do it. Most folks do not. But now you do.
Try these three simple steps, and I guarantee that your presentation improves dramatically.
The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting has much more on how to interact in an especially powerful manner with your slides and avoid bad PowerPoint along the way to achieving personal competitive advantage.