Picture a better PowerPoint presentation

Presentations have reached an all-time low. Once upon a time, competent businessmen and women could give a presentation based on a few index cards. Now, every presentation requires a PowerPoint slide program, which at worst consists of text that the presenter reads. At best, it contains key ideas or bullet points, which the audience, in a zombie-like trance, writes down while the presenter explains their meaning, which is usually fairly obvious to begin with.

Finally, to make matters worse, the presenter distributes hard copies of the PowerPoint slides or passes around a list on which you can write your e-mail address to receive a copy of the presentation, as if this is some kind of value-added feature or top-secret information available only to those who sign up for it.

Are we this inane? Have we really lost the ability to digest spoken information?

For PowerPoint to be truly effective, don’t use a single word of text. None. Nary a letter. Instead, use PowerPoint for what it should be: a visual aid. Pictures. Photographs. Cartoons. Striking images that provide humor, create shock value, or drive home a point.

If you mention Syrian rebels, show a graphic of children fighting in the streets. If you’re talking about the housing market, post a picture of a county sheriff taping an eviction notice to a door. If it’s a presentation on health care availability among the poor, use a picture of a funeral.

Use powerful imagery to provide a context for what you have to say. Use it to introduce a point. Use it to drive a point home that you’ve just made. Images convey emotion and meaning. They draw in your audience. They’re engrossing, repulsive, captivating and inflammatory.

Give your presentation based entirely on notes contained on a few index cards or a half sheet of paper. Force the audience to listen to you, to hear what you have to say—not what’s printed in 24-point Times New Roman on a slide projector screen.

This revolutionary method—which was often used to great success in the dark ages of, say, 1987—will require you to stretch out of your comfort zone. It will require you to rehearse a bit in front of a mirror.

Standup comedian, Jerry Seinfeld, jokes that because most Americans fear public speaking more than death, they’d rather be the guest of honor at the funeral than give the eulogy. But I wonder if that’s true any longer. When asked to give a presentation, most people just type up some notes on PowerPoint slides and then read them. That’s lazy and not as effective as it could be.

Maybe it won’t be easy to give your next presentation sans words. But if you put just a little effort into it, I guarantee you it will be the best presentation at the conference. And that, after all, is power—and the point!

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