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Power Positioning for PowerPoint
By Sandra A. Shelton   Printer Friendly Version

Participant Perceptions:
The room darkens and the electronic hum begins as lights go dim, the hard drive spins into action, the zoom lens focuses, and the screen positions itself. Then the soft click of the first slide heralds the beginning of an extremely well designed slide presentation whirring into action.

Suppressed oohs and aahs reverberate around the room. Colors literally scream across the screen, jump around, jiggle and pulse to intermittent music, bells, and whistles.

What form! What action!

And the fonts! Me, oh my... gorgeous fonts used exactly right; they make the reading of text so easy that even a visually challenged person having forgotten reading glasses could see from the back row, not to mention that each font expressed exactly the message intended.

But there is more... graphs, charts, spreadsheets... truly, dynamics to die for. What artistry!

A voice comes over the lapel microphone of the presenter adding to the cacophony of sounds and pleasant sensations of the experience. The mind is boggled trying to absorb it all. And, the chairs are somewhat comfortable, the temperature is just right, no one is making any demands on the listeners... relax, absorb, and enjoy the show.

There is, however, a thought dawning in the peripheral realm of consciousness, a slight dread and fear creeps up the back of each neck. The uncomfortable notion that nearly every person in the room will have the responsibility of doing a presentation after this one. So what!? It won't have to be this dramatic. After all, as long as the message gets across, the mission is accomplished successfully... right?

I don't know, I may look dumb if I don't use PowerPoint and all its capacity; it's not like I don't have the manual, the software, tech support, and templates... Forget it for now, idiot. Pay attention...try to grasp the content of today's message... don't worry about it now. Take notes, really good notes! This is a competitive world... grab all the information possible.

Two hours go by as each participant madly takes notes, fills in all the blanks as the same PowerPoint blanks are brilliantly and cleverly filled in with all sorts of animation. Little film clips are artfully interwoven so those examples become little movies to see. No effort on my part to imagine a scenario. This is great! I don't have to work hard at all.

Hummm... I better figure out how to get film clips into the presentation I have coming up. Drat! I can see now that I am going to need more preparation time in order to get all this stuff planned, implemented, and rehearsed. What now, what in the world...

The lights are completely out now and there is a single beam of light on the presenter. Oh, I forgot there was a live presence. The presenter is closing the presentation and asking for questions. Boom! All lights are up. Much blinking of the eyes, shuffling in the chairs and arousal throat clearing punctuated by obligatory coughing.

The questions begin? Nope, silence. Frankly, I am not sure what has been said. I will look back over my notes later (Sure, I will... who am I kidding? When I am out of here, I am going to start scrambling to get my next presentation up to speed. Fortunately, I know the basic content; all I need to do is make it fit in with the visual presentation. Are we dismissed?)

PowerPoint Temptations:

Message lost in the technology:

PowerPoint, Persuasion, PageMaker... any presentation software can fall prey to the same thing... distorting rather than supporting.

One of the biggest problems I have observed in my 17 years on the platform is that the audio/visual display is often given more exposure, setup time, preparation time than the information to be given in the presenters unique style. We are always given information from the corporate platform. The most successful approach is to build a relationship that audio/visual augments or supports but does not overtake.

High tech is wonderful when it allows us to illustrate a point in a way that we could not effectly. However, there is a limit. Think about it. If you do not get the minds engaged of those present, you have failed as a presenter because without the mind engaged, nothing happens after the session that is much different than before it.

Of course, if you as a presenter are there just to take the fee, get audience attention, giggles, and even a standing ovation to make you feel good... well, we aren't talking from the same page. I am talking on a higher relationship plane. After the seminar, what will happen? If slides help illustrate what can happen with the information or help me grab the information, GREAT! Otherwise, ditch them.

Interactive Is Just a Word

Interactive should be the truth if you promise it. The first question I ask myself before giving a corporate presentation is, "What is in it for the participant on a practical, real world level?" If they are not involved, it they are mind-numbed in a dark room, watching and listening only, that is a one-way process. Interactive implies a continuing two-way process, more than the common justification for minds numbing presentation: "It was two-way. Each mind was working and creating in internal dialogue."

Please do not misunderstand me. If a very high tech audio or visual mechanic or live presence of an unusual element will make a point so dramatically for the participant that nothing else will suffice. . I will do it. If I want the audience to feel as if they were in the middle of an earthquake, I would create that effect with all sorts of technical mechanisms to simulate sound, lights, feelings. However, if the "ooh-aah" stuff is not an integral part of bringing the audience and me to a more intimate relationship with the message of the day, no matter how "cool" it might be, I drop it. The most enlightening comment I ever received after one of my early seminars was that the people who knew me who came to my session were "kind" in their comments but certainly not enthusiastic and supporting. My assistant at the time made this observation:

"Sandra, I attribute the lack of accolades from the fact that they knew you, came to hear your, and were interested in your presentation. Instead, in an hour's period they had mostly, slides, music, audio sequences, and you as a facilitator of media. That's just not what they wanted or expected. You got lost in the media show."

How humbling and convicting. I realized I had been hiding behind the media and hoping that because I had so much technical savvy that I would be highly respected. The problem was that I lost me, the messenger. The strongest attachment a person has to any idea is the attachment he or she has with the giver of the information. Trying to keep an audience "attached" in the dark, with a lot of pictures and very little live presence is not memorable or usually helpful.

I have found the connection with the participant stronger when on a higher level, more flesh and blood so that it is more rewarding for me and for the audience. I prefer to minimize the use of slides and titillate the imagination of the listener. Every time I do that, the responses I get from the audience tell me I was on track. They personalize the information with comments like: "You were talking to me when you said..." I heard you confirm me in the latest idea " "Here's something you will appreciate (as they hand me a quote or a reference or send me something in the mail...)" Now, that's interactive!

By staying on task to the point that the participants no longer feel a connection to me as a human being, I distort information and set up a poor role model for any presenter-gonna-be(s). Now everyone thinks because I, as a professional, used lots of dimly lit slide shows (meaning the room not the slides themselves) that they should, too. The problem gets perpetuated and we have a birth of more dark room, humming slide show... Not to mention the high stress upon me to be technically perfect in execution of all the buttons, dimmers, and sounds.

People can relax and learn best if whatever is used in a presentation, aligns with what the speaker is saying and in a way that is consistent with who the speaker is on a personal level. (Lord, help us, we have enough talking mannequins.) And, please, don't throw away a technology that allows for a lighted room! Overhead projectors are still the best way to interact with the audience (write with them on the PowerPoint overhead) and keep them awake and in the light (the room can usually be lighter than with slides shows or laptop shows). After all, isn't that the way you like to relate to people? Talking together? Where you can see each other clearly? With an opportunity to say something?

When all is said and done...

When the "party" is over, what does each person have uppermost? That is the question you must answer before you speak. Ask and answer that before you use each slide. Another good pondering points are:

How will the subject matter make a difference, that is, make something work better, offer help in a strained relationship, help stimulate creative thinking in an area of stress...

The feedback from every session from every person who is willing to fill one out will teach you the above in dramatic terms. Be taught now. That way the feedback can be more meaningful and focused on how lives are enhanced or simplified by the information that heard you articulate.

No one comes to a corporate learning session to bond with a laptop. They come for answers from a fellow sojourner in this thing we call work. Reward them and they will in turn reward you with their responses. Get out of the dark and put the spotlight on the only thing that makes a presentation worth it, i.e., we heard you and were moved to do something positive with the information.


Just before I emailed this article, I ran by my production house to pick up some demo tapes. As we were waiting for them, I engaged the secretary in a conversation. Knowing my profession, she asked me if I had heard a special presentation given by a guest speaker in our area. I had not. She went on to talk about the neat video clip he had used to make a powerful point. I waited. She could not remember the movie it was from. I waited. She remembered the clip was from the movie Red October. She couldn't remember the scene exactly but remembered how neat it was to have movie clips showing on two big screens. I waited for the point. She could not for the life of her remember the point that was made. But, it really was a great point and one so dramatic that one could not forget it... I rest my case.

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