In four separate meetings over the past week I was in the audience as speakers leaned heavily on PowerPoint presentations. Each presentation consisted of slide after slide of bulleted text copy. They used this copy as a talking point guide. One presenter just stood and read each slide as if the audience was either blind or illiterate.
I remember seeing Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth” presentation at the Aspen Institute in 2005. I was riveted. Not only was his content incredibly captivating but there was something that just flowed about the whole presentation. Flash forward a few weeks later and I met one of the guys who created Gore’s slideshow. I asked him what, besides the content, made this particular presentation so effective. His answer was quite insightful.
He said all people learn in one of two ways: verbally or visually. When someone puts words on a screen and then talks over them, you are losing both audiences. You lose the verbal learners because they are trying to listen to your words and also read the words on the screen. They don’t know where to focus. For the visual learners, you have no images to reinforce your points so the message is lost for them in a sea of language.
His advice was simple: if you are going to use PowerPoint or a similar presentation tool, use it only to put up a few images, photos or graphs to reinforce your narrative. Resist the temptation to put up slides of bulleted points. Look at the best and most compelling TED talks. The speakers, almost without exception, use this technique with great impact.
So the next time you are called on to make your pitch – and before you open the PowerPoint app – consider your audience. Inside even the driest of topics lies a great story. Find it. Then imagine what graphics will best convey your story. And weave a verbal narrative around them.
Tell stories. Show pictures. Reward your audience for their time and attention and make your talk an unforgettable, engaging journey.