PowerPoint Presentations: How To Avoid Creating ''Technological Distance'' Between You And Your Audience

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Let's concede — once and for all — that PowerPoint is more often than not deadly to a presentation. In theory, it should make it more organized and professional. In practice, it creates what I call ''technological distance'' from the audience. Not only is PowerPoint failing to impress — it's killing the natural connection that a speaker should be able to make with the rest of the people in the room.

PowerPoint was a revolutionary concept — a simple, fast way to create colorful computer graphics with easy to read charts and photos. But somewhere along the way, PowerPoint hijacked the business presentation.

What is “technological distance”?

If you look in the dictionary, you’ll find several definitions of the word distance, including this: “emotional separateness or reserve; aloofness.”

What I mean when I say technological distance is the emotional separateness people feel when your PowerPoint takes center stage. Instead of paying close attention to you, they are reading your slides. This creates psychological “space” between you and others.

When people do not connect with you, they perceive you as more distant, reserved, and even aloof. When the room goes dark, and they see that slide presentation pop up on the screen, their attention immediately goes there. If the slides require any amount of work to read or interpret, many in your audience are going to tune you out. It’s virtually impossible to read and listen at the same time. And you can’t overcome that by “reading” the slides, because audiences are sophisticated. They will simply assume you haven’t prepared.

One of the best reasons to go to the trouble of making a presentation is to build a relationship with the audience. You want them to see you as an expert in your field, someone who has the answers. When you do this, you build a powerful personal brand. But when PowerPoint becomes the star, you are nothing more than a vehicle for the message. They’ll forget your name before they are out the door.

Common Mistakes

One common problem we see business people make is starting their preparation by creating slides. As soon as they schedule a presentation, they turn on the computer and start messing with slides they already have on file. They spend hours organizing and reorganizing. If they don’t have the slides they need, they create more slides. Usually these slides are impossible to read or interpret in the 20 seconds to a minute that the audience has to look at them. Meanwhile, the typical presenter has given little thought to what the presentation is really about. Such presenters haven’t stopped to take inventory of what the audience wants or needs to know. The best presentations start with an inquisitive process — figuring out the audience — and then outlining and writing. All this should happen long before you ever open up the PowerPoint program.

A lot of presenters can’t help themselves, though — they are addicted to slides. That’s why I think it’s time for a 12-step program: Overcoming Addiction to PowerPoint. So, I did a little research on the 12 steps for Alcoholics Anonymous. Now, please don’t be offended, because this is all tongue in cheek — there’s no comparison between PowerPoint and real addiction! So accept this in the spirit in which it’s intended — to make a point about how you can become the star of your own presentations.

12-Step Program — Overcoming Addiction to PowerPoint

1. We admit we are powerless when using PowerPoint slides — our presentations are unmanageable if people are reading the slides and not listening to us.

2. We have come to believe that there’s a power greater than slides, and that it is within us as speakers to learn how to be great.

3. We have made a decision to believe in ourselves as speakers and develop the ability to connect with an audience — without PowerPoint.

4. We have made a searching and fearless inventory of what we know about the audience so we can deliver a better presentation without slides.

5. We have admitted to ourselves and others that we have not always done it right — we haven’t always thought first about the audience. We’ve created slides first, and worked our presentations around them.

6. We are entirely ready to stop this practice of starting with the slides since it almost always creates defects in the presentation.

7. We humbly accept advice from others about how to make presentations more interesting and relevant to the audience.

8. We have made a list of all the people we would like to reach and thought about how we could deliver more original, compelling presentations.

9. We have made amends to audiences we have already “distanced” through our overuse of slides — and we have planned the next presentation to be our best.

10. We continue to take personal inventory and work hard to make our presentations interesting, informative, and original.

11. We have sought through meditation and brainstorming to come up with powerful stories, anecdotes, humor, examples, and other ways to connect.

12. Having had an awakening by performing these 12 steps, we share our insights with our friends and colleagues to help make their presentations more dynamic, too.

About the Author

Suzanne Bates is president of Bates Communications, a communications consulting firm that helps business leaders and executives speak with an authentic voice of leadership and get a competitive edge in business. Her firm's clients include Fidelity, Mellon, State Street, EMC, Blue Cross, Interactive Data, and Cabot Corporation. Suzanne is also the author of Speak Like a CEO: Secrets for Commanding Attention and Getting Results (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2005), which has been translated into Russian and Chinese. Prior to starting her successful consulting firm, she was an award-winning television news anchor and reporter. She can be reached at info@bates-communications.com or by visiting www.bates-communications.com.
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