Every year at the Mac Expo, Steve Jobs used to unveil some fantastic new, game-changing technology from Apple. His presentations were always outstanding, both for the content and for entertainment value.
For instance, when he introduced the MacBook air back in 2009, he didn’t just talk about the specs of the new product, he demonstrated its thinness by pulling their tiny new laptop out of a 9×12 manilla envelope.
It wasn’t just passion and natural charisma that made Jobs an effective communicator. It was his ability to convey ideas in simple, concise ways. He used honest demonstrations. Stories. Theater. And yes, some Hollywood special effects. Not Powerpoint.
PowerPoint is the antithesis Apple and the enemy of innovation.
Some time ago I attend a two-day branding conference down in Austin, Texas. The keynote speaker was a notable pro who speaks and teaches professionally all across the country. He had an assistant with him, as well as tech support from the conference facility.
Three hours into it and he was still fumbling around with his Powerpoint Presentation… Lights on. Lights off. Sound’s way too loud. Sound’s not on. Sound’s out of sync. Slides are out of order. Video won’t play. How many times do we have to look at this guy’s desktop? What a disaster.
But to be fair, even if the computer had behaved itself his presentation would have fallen flat. Because his ideas were totally scattered. His slides were loaded with text that he read verbatim. And his speech wasn’t really a speech at all. It was more of a walk-through of the slides. He would have been better off just speaking.
Thank God, I’m not a middle manager in a big corporation where I’d have to endure daily doses of that crap. Powerpoint, as it’s commonly employed, is a terrible form of communication.
In “The Perfect Pitch,” Jon Steele says, “most presenters start with the slides, and then treat what they are going to say simply as an exercise in linkage. The unfortunate consequence of this is that the presenter is reduced to a supporting role. To all presenters, I say this: YOU are the presentation.”
That’s easy to say if you’re as big as Steve Jobs. But you don’t have to be famous to put on a gripping and persuasive presentation. You just have to change the process and forget about Powerpoint until you’re three-quarters of the way through.
Instead, think of yourself as a storyteller — in the old-fashioned, verbal tradition of story telling. Stories are way more compelling than slides. And no matter how boring the topic may seem, there’s always a story buried in there somewhere.
So tell the story. Write it down. Flesh it out and practice it before you ever open Powerpoint. Then use the software to create visual support for your main verbal points. Not the other way around! You’ll be amazed how focused your message becomes.
The first rule of communicating is to eliminate confusion. Make things clear! When you throw a bunch of data up on a slide, you’re not making things more clear, you’re just adding confusion.
So you were forced to think long and hard about the content of each and every one. You had to plan the flow of the presentation. You had to know what the most important points were. And you were forced to boil it down until there was nothing left but the absolutely most powerful, relevant points for the slides. Then you’d cover the rest of the stuff in your speech.
Powerpoint makes it too easy to add slides and overwhelm people with charts and graphs. The technological tool has become a crutch that hobbles great communication. Got an idea? Just jump right into PowerPoint and start creating slides.
Another unfortunate side effect of PowerPoint is lousy, truncated writing. People think they have to limit their words to fit the slides. And what they. End up with. Is choppy. Confusing. Information. That doesn’t. Flow. Or Communicate. Much of anything.
If you write the script first and then use PowerPoint slides as visual aids to drive home the main points, you won’t have that problem. You’ll be speaking from a coherent, human, story-based script, not reading random bullet points right off the slides.
I suspect that much of the problem stems from the fear of public speaking. And that’s understandable. People with that fear like to hide behind the PowerPoint slides. They can become almost invisible. But that’s not how you’re going to make a sale, further your career or build a successful business. You have to suck it up, and put yourself out there.
Truth is, if you want to improve your presentations you’re going to have to get comfortable with public speaking. Join Toastmasters. Watch some YouTube videos and watch how the pros do it. Find a good mentor… Salespeople are usually the best at it, so if there’s someone really good at your company offer to be an audience as they practice. Watch, listen, and learn. And forget about mastering all the technical bells and whistles of PowerPoint. That will just distract you from the main objective.
So here’s the final word: If you want people to remember your words, translate them into a picture. Put the picture up on the screen, then speak the words. Don’t put the written words up there, just to be repeated from your trembling lips. It’s redundant. It’s boring. And it’s unimaginative.
Steve Jobs didn’t put the words “thinest laptop on the market” up on the screen. He showed us the product. He demonstrated how thin it was while he talked about the details.
Another option is to hire someone like myself to write and produce the presentation for you and coach you through the delivery. Do that a couple times, and you’ll either catch on, or you’ll decide that it’s just best left to professionals.
Either way, you’ll end up with an effective, engaging presentation, even if you’re not introducing the latest, greatest invention from Apple.
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