As audiences around the world are sent into a soporific stupor through being subjected to bad presentations, the usefulness of Powerpoint as a means of communicating ideas has been called into question.
The APPP sees itself as ‘…the advocate of approximately 250 Million people worldwide, who, every month, are obliged to be present during boring presentations in companies, universities, or at other institutions…’
The primary objective of any presentation should be to engage, and not bore, your audience.
Yet Powerpoint, and other presentation platforms, are merely the tools; perhaps the real issue is how we are using those tools?
Meetings & Events Australia (MEA) has become the first organisation to ban the traditional use of PowerPoint-style presentations at a major conference. The MEA Annual National Conference, to be held in Sydney on 21-24 April 2012, attracts around 900 delegates to discuss meeting and event issues.
Given its role in advising clients how to communicate effectively at events, MEA has long questioned whether speakers who read out bullet points provide a useful experience for meeting delegates.
“The bullet point model was created in the pre-digital era, when there was a shortage of expert information. It was worth flying somewhere to hear that kind of speech. Now the web is full of expert presentations you can watch in your own time and location, so meetings need to provide something beyond that,” said Linda Gaunt, chief executive officer of MEA.
The aim is to deliver presentations that are simpler, more emotive and more human than delegates normally see. Presenters are encouraged to tell stories rather than read out lists. Endless studies have shown that stories are far more memorable and inspiring than the standard style of business presentation, but until now organisations have balked at enforcing speakers to break the mould.
MEA has drawn up a banned list of classic PowerPoint techniques. Bullet points, flow charts, template backgrounds, clip art, reading from the screen, and other proven yawn-inducers are all forbidden, a challenging task at an event with speakers from around the world.
Presenters have been briefed to present with simpler, more involving material: photos, videos, demonstrations, old-fashioned storytelling. No image is allowed to have more than 10 words.
“As an industry, we manage everyone else’s events. It’s up to us to set an example to show that when you get people together, it doesn’t have to be a process of dull, passive one-way communication,” said Gaunt.
“We’re pushing everyone outside the comfort zone, and we think it’s going to be involving and inspiring. It’s the future of meetings.”
We are out of the age of ignorance about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to presentations, so there is no longer any excuse for boring an audience to sleep!
In the past, I have been guilty of Powerpoint sins, but having sat through one too many appalling presentations – including several by an executive who literally used to copy and paste text-dense paragraphs onto slides, and another which attempted to get through a three-digit number of slides in an hour (speed Powerpoint, anyone?) – I have endeavoured to change my presentations in accordance with the kinds of guidelines mentioned by MEA, which has banned the Powerpoint ‘bads’.
In 2008, I gave a presentation which was almost all images, and very few words, although I still admit to reading from prompts – it was my first go at doing a presentation this way. It was the last slot of the afternoon on the last day of the event, about the time when most people want it to be over so they can go to the bar for some drinks.
Halfway into my presentation, I noticed that none of the audience had left, and they appeared attentive when they otherwise might have been expected to be nodding off, distracted, or have left for the bar. It was because I was telling them a story, and the images on the screen were illustrating my words, not competing with them.
Following on from what not to do means learning how to craft presentations – which are both technically excellent, and that work in terms of memorable content – from those doing this best and teaching others presentation skills.
What are some of your Powerpoint horror stories – either presentations you’ve given, or ones you’ve experienced as an audience member?
If you have delivered the kind of presentation the MEA is talking about, how did it feel? Did you notice a different response in your audience?