We the People, in order to form perfect presentations and promote the general welfare of never being so bored that we fake a family member’s death to get out of meetings, do establish this PowerPoint Audiences Bill of Rights. We declare that despite the tyranny of bullet-points that we dissolve the cultural bonds that trap us in darkened rooms and secure the rights of audiences and co-workers everywhere with the following inalienable rights:
I. Freedom from the assumption that PowerPoint's a must
If you have ever seen the Salad Shooter(TM), then you know that technology is not the answer to everything. That means PowerPoint is not the solution for every meeting. Yet so many people believe they have to use it. Why? Because PowerPoint is as addictive as any computer game. Like Tetris, PowerPoint exploits our desire to create order. You have a huge bucket of information, and PowerPoint forces you to bring order to the chaos. Many people think if they had fun making it then audiences will love it. That's not true for your vacation photos, your fantasy football brackets or your list of bullet points.
II. Freedom from having slides read to us
Really! We mean it! You have heard this before, but you keep doing it. Nothing insults an audience more than treating us like we are so stupid that we cannot read the words on a wall the size of a Toyota Corolla. Don't lecture us. Don't pitch us. Just have a conversation with us.
III. Freedom from data dumps
We are a statistic crazed culture. Five out of three people insist on using them, according to the Institute of Sarcasm. And that has fostered a belief that anecdotal accounts are not as valid as empirical data. I'm not discounting the need for people to use empirical data for their decisions. Really important. Yet that is the wrong tool to persuade and move an audience. Statistics should be like Tabasco Sauce --a little creates a poignant flavor to the dish and too much makes you nauseous. If audiences wanted endless statistics and facts, they could Google them in 20 seconds, but for someone reason, you were invited to speak. Dump the data into a hand-out or leave behind, and tell the audience a story that shows what it all means.
IV. Freedom from being bored to death
You don’t have to put on a show or be funny, but you do have to be interesting. The secret to never being boring is to build a presentation using storytelling techniques. Story encompasses the learning patterns of both the left and right side of the brain. In other words, story is a whole brain learning experience that will connect with audiences no matter how they learn. Research on how juries make decisions show that's how people naturally organize information, but more importantly story increases attention, retention and confidence in the decisions made. If you want your audience to say yes or take an action, story is the way you get them to feel confident about the decision.
But the most important reason is that story abhors a vacuum. Start doling out fact after fact, and the audience is going to automatically create their own story to fill the vacuum of the unexplained. You need to be ahead of them with a story that helps make sense out of everything.
V. Freedom from presentations designed to be handouts
Was the PowerPoint so bad because it was really a handout, or was the handout so bad because it was really a PowerPoint? If you can learn to think of your slides as being separate and independent from your handouts, you move ahead of the pack. Think of the handout as a nice magazine article with sidebars, appendixes and graphs. The perfect place for all the data and detail that cannot fit into your presentation. And the audience will be thrilled to have a handout that allows them to take in information in the way they learn.
VI. Freedom from hearing "Next slide, please"
Who among us doesn't remember John F. Kennedy's famous speech that as a nation we would advance slides in this lifetime. Who doesn't know exactly where they were when they saw NASA (National Advancement of Slides Agency) advanced the first slide remotely. Yet conference rooms are filled with people who use head nods, hand signals and say "next slide please." This is common among some high-level government officials and CEO's whose staff does everything for them. All is forgiven for cabinet members, governors, etc., but some people do it almost as an affectation of power. I'm so important I brought in a guy to click my slides for me --just like the CEO.
Audiences remember what you say the most. Think of all the horrible presentations where the only thing you remember the speaker saying is "next slide please." I promise you this problem has been solved; if you can change a television channel, you can master slide advancement. As audience members, we demand that every professional develop a personal clicking strategy!
VII. Freedom from Inside-Baseball Jargon
This is perhaps the most common mistake smart people make. How many presentations have you heard wrapped up in the language from old annual reports. "We are committed to enhancing the experience of valued customers by allowing them to implement flexibility that empowers their efforts and adds value to their lifestyle needs." What?! "Oh, they can choose a blender in either red or blue." No one ever went home and said "At the office today, I committed to enhancing the experience of valued customers." But stand in front of an audience with a digital projector, and it's all you can blather about.
Whether it’s a sign of insecurity (The audience won’t believe I’m really an expert/professional if I don’t use my terminology) or a sign of micro-targeting the audience (There will be at least one person from my profession there, and I don’t want to look stupid in front of her), this is the quickest way to separate yourself from your audience. What impresses an audience is presenting information in a way they can understand with language that grabs them. Strip your remarks of technical chatter and meaningless biz-report-speak. It's not a reflection on the audience's intelligence that we are not in your profession, but it is a reflection on you if you cannot communicate without jargon or parroting meaningless cliches.
VIII. Freedom from slides going faster when the speaker is running out of time.
Sure, the rapid-fire flickering of slides is a cool strobe effect, but unless you are also going to play Pink Floyd's "The Dark Side of the Moon," it's totally pointless. Research shows audiences remember the first and last thing you say, so don't blow the moment by trying to squeeze in 100 moments. Two ways to handle the ending: 1. Hyper-link to the ending. Every presentation can go faster or slower depending on nerves or audience questions, so place a hidden hyper-link into your slides. When you get to your final 10 minutes, click on the hidden hyper-link, and go into your big finish. You can cover anything missed with, "I have more information on this in my handout, but in our time remaining, I would like to talk about the main reason I came here to speak today ." 2. Just stop. If all the detail is in the handout, you can stop when your time is up. "I see I have taken all the time allowed. There's more information in the leave-behind and feel free to contact me for more information." That's how pro's end a presentation. No apologies. No whining. And no laser light shows.
IX. Freedom from bullet-points
People treat their slides like real estate in Manhattan and try to cram as much into one space as possible. The result? A confusing mash-up of data that's hard to read and often unintelligible. The material is not presented in a way that people actually take in information. Or worse, the presenter treats the audience as if they love bullet points. When is the last time you bought a magazine that was only bullet points? Never! Yet, we get a group of people from work in the room, and we treat them like they love it. You are not a biological delivery mechanism for a slide-deck that encompasses all knowledge that an audience should possess. The slides are not the presentation. You are! And, PowerPoint is a simply tactical illustrator that supports the presentation.
X. Freedom from Slide-Count Presentation Designers
The typical office pre-game discussion goes like this: "Well the talk is for an hour, so that should be 20 slides with a three minute explanation of each slide." While a popular equation among engineers, the fact is slide-count is irrelevant, and please don't mistake that discussion as "preparation." The result is you take a slide deck used in the last five presentations, mish-mash it together with a few new slides and send it around for review. Real preparation is taking the time to think about who the audience is, what they want to know and how could you help them quickly grasp the concepts. More times than not we are in a conference room trying to get someone important to our business to say "yes," and yet we somehow think 62 bullet points on the history of our corporate charter and mission statement will help us get there. Slide counts rules are for that one guy or gal in your office who has the complete inability to leave out the kitchen sink. Your job is not to create a strategy to fill your audiences time; your job is to find a way to engage them in a genuine conversation that builds relationships and gets to results.
John Bobo is a PowerPoint survivor and author of the #1 Litigation Bestseller on Amazon Kindle The Best Story Wins (And other advice for new Prosecutors). A book for new prosecutors, law students and anyone who wants to learn how to be persuasive. This summer his newly released novel Three Degrees From Justice ranked as a Top 10 Amazon Kindle Bestseller in Noir Crime Fiction.
Copyright © 2013 John Bobo.