Monday, March 25, 2013

PowerPoint is Satan

I watched four speakers at a workshop I attended on Saturday. They were all intelligent, very well versed in their topics, and all seemed incredibly likable. And their presentations were all seriously flawed. The common denominator? PowerPoint.

I was once told that the word Satan comes from the Hebrew meaning one who hinders or obstructs. I have no knowledge of Hebrew or whether that is true. However if it is even remotely true, then I think it is not hyperbole to label PowerPoint as Satan. This potentially very cool software program has done more to hurt public speaking than any phenomenon...ever. More often than not it simply hinders or obstructs human communication.

The first speaker I saw was a great example. She was a retired high school teacher and as such probably knows more about engaging an audience than most of the people on the planet---I can't think of a tougher audience to try to keep engaged than a room full of high-schoolers! And engaging she was. She spoke for 15 minutes or so and had the audience in the palm of her hand, Her exuberance,  knowledge, and joy for sharing it was a wonderful thing to watch. She then realized she had a PowerPoint slide show to get through---something like 30 slides (or about 25 too many) and suddenly became a slave to the bullets--of which there were dozens. She tried to maintain her enthusiasm but basically wound up flying through slides not having time to cover their contents (and from the frazzled look on the woman trying to keep the day on schedule, I suspect went way over her allotted speaking time, despite the fact that little meaningful communication happened after that initial fifteen minutes).

Her use of PowerPoint ruined her presentation.

The second speaker was as well informed and likable as can be. He seemed to have a plan. The problem was that the plan was not in sync with the plan set up on the PowerPoint. So he spent the second half of his presentation clicking to a new slide and saying "Well I've already talked about all of this" and moving on, repeating as necessary.

PowerPoint seriously detracted from his presentation.

The third speaker followed her slides dutifully, reading one full-sentence bullet after another...and was as boring as eternity in a white room...the time frame she seemed to speak for.

PowerPoint was used poorly, and the presentation followed suit.

And then the fourth speaker, Ah, the fourth speaker, Yes, the fourth speaker. What can I say? I had such high hopes for the fourth speaker as she made her way to the front of the room. For starters, she was beautiful--that's always a nice extra, no? And she was smart. She just oozed intelligence (and the credentials announced during the introduction of her suggested as much...a graduate degree from Princeton and so forth). And then when she provided a fundamentally sound introduction to her speech, I knew that it had been worth the wait for the fourth and final speaker. Except at the very end of the intro when she previewed her main points. She previewed seven or so and any speechwriter knows three is ideal, and any more than five is absolutely  unacceptable. But alas, no one is perfect and if she knew enough to preview her main points she would be so wonderful that even the "bonus points" could and would be forgiven.

And then she turned her back to half the audience and began to mumble at the screen, She would read each bulleted factoid, mumble awhile and read the next bullet and mumble some more and this went on for half an hour that felt like the aforementioned eternity. It took every ounce of civility I had to not just get up and walk out.

She was the very worst of what PowerPoint can do to a human being.

The really sad part is I am convinced that every one of the four would have been so much better had they simply not used PowerPoint. Yes, that's right. You are far better off with zero visual aids than poor ones.

Tune in tomorrow when I will discuss some simple pointers for using PowerPoint EFFECTIVELY. Nothing crazy or time consuming, just some simple suggestions to keep PowerPoint's Satanic powers at bay and make yourself a more effective speaker.

Until then, be well and speak well.

And thanks for reading!

For more information about Dan Leyes and his consulting services visit Semiosphere Consulting.