We’ve all endured it. We’ve all been there. The presenter clicks to start their power point presentation and the screen flashes up a slide chock full of bullet point phrases, which they then proceed to read out, one by one. Each slide has yet more bullet points, in diminishingly sized fonts. You slowly and surely lose your will to live.
A lecturer once told me a story of a presentation he did when he was one a young corporal in the Army. He was presenting to a General, and after the first slide, the General asked “Corporal, are all your slides going to be bullet point lists like this?”. The young corporal nodded. “Well”, said the General, “I can read, so just hand me a print out and we’ll end this right now!”
The old General had a point. Don’t ever (ever) read bullet points out in presentations to your audience. In fact, rarely use bullet points at all. Your best visual aid is yourself – your tone of voice, posture, gestures, the words you use and images they conjure up. Tell stories. Use the slide deck as a prop, not a crutch to remember your speech. If you do use bullet points, do not insult the audience’s intelligence by reading them out to them. Use photos – large ones. The best presentations I have seen have only used photos, as a visual aid to enhance the story telling nature of the presentation. We are wired to listen and remember stories. Great leaders always use them. Great speakers and great speeches deploy them.
Watch Steve Jobs’ address to Stanford Uni in 2005. He’s not a natural public speaker, but he tells three personal stories, 5 minutes each, and the points are made. No powerpoint required.
Here are some ways you can inflict ‘Death by Powerpoint‘ on your audience (don’t do it!):
- Slide after slide of bullet points. No creative imagination in the slides, use them as ‘notes’ to remind you what to say.
- Even better, use ‘umm’ and ‘err’ a lot, as if even you are not sure what the bullet points are about.
- Go well over time. Start slow and speed up at the end as you try to jam every last slide into your time. Do not pick up on the social cues given by both the audience and the organisers. When warned about time being up say something like “Oh, I better rattle through my remaining 17 slides then!” thereby demonstrating a total lack of respect for your audience. When told by the organiser you have 5 minutes left carry on for another 16 minutes. [It’s as bad as being late to a business meeting. Know precisely how long you have and practice your talk beforehand so you hit the time exactly. Use your iphone clock count down to keep an eye on how much time is left. The successful car salesman John Hughes always makes a point of taking off his gold watch and holding it as he addresses an audience. He knows exactly when the time is nearly up and finishes bang on every time.]
- Attempt humour but only achieve awkwardness in the room. [Be careful with jokes, being a stand up is not easy. Better to go for a well honed story with some light moments, which then have a point, so you can segue yourself into your talking points.]
- Cram too many points in. [The audience can maybe take away 1, 2 or 3 things. That’s it. It’s not a lecture, it’s a business presentation. But these days, even lectures are business presentations.]
- Stay in one spot and don’t make eye contact around the room. Instead blandly look up in the general direction of some imaginary person sitting about half way up the back wall.
I am not the world’s best public speaker by any means. When I was at school I used to get highly embarrassed if a teacher asked me a question in class. But gradually I learned the skills, maybe through debating club, then as a teacher, and finally when I went into business and ran training courses and did some public speaking at conferences and seminars. I picked up ideas from other speakers, and developed my own style. I now feel comfortable speaking publicly, even MC’g functions. It’s a skill that can be learned. Learning not to make the obvious mistakes is a good start. I also was coached along the way, notably by Tom from 8M Media (who has a media training course coming up in September – do check it out.)
To inspire, here are some of the greatest speeches ever made – none of them require a visual aid besides the person doing the speaking and the images their words evoke in your mind…
- JFK ‘Peace‘ speech, 1963
- Martin Luther King ‘I have a Dream‘, 1963
- Obama’s Democratic Convention Speech, 2004
- Charlie Chaplin Great Dictator Speech, 1940
- Martin Sheen’s WE Day Speech, 2010