Top 5 Biggest PowerPoint Mistakes: #5 Using PowerPoint in the First Place

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When the going gets tough, shoot the messenger. Don’t laugh. According to the New York Times (“We Have Met the Enemy and He Is PowerPoint,” April 26, 783414_92347913_no_projector_royalty_free-stock-xchng_3002010), we can blame the ubiquitous PowerPoint for stultifying creativity, a false sense of security, and thousands of hours of lost productivity. (Disclosure: I drafted the bulk of this article – the first of a five-part series – the weekend before the Times published their story.) How could something that feels so right be so wrong?

Let’s start with something a mentor told me before the Trash-80 even made it to the shelves of your neighborhood RadioShack® store. I had to give a presentation to the board of directors of the radio station I so happily spun disks for. These various music directors had no idea what I intended to spring on them – I wanted to add sports broadcasting! I felt a handout might ease their concerns.

“Good idea,” said the mentor, “but don’t pass it out until you’re done with your presentation.”

“But why?” I naively wondered.

“Because you want them to pay attention to you! And that means looking at you when you speak, not reading the paper you just passed out.”

“That’s important?” I was such a knucklehead back then.

“Important?! Why, it might mean the difference between success and failure,” clamored the mentor. He calmed down and continued, “You see, you can’t make eye contact if they’re staring at your brilliant executive summary instead of your face. Eye contact is critical to trust.  They won’t trust you if you don’t make eye contact. They won’t go with your idea if they don’t trust you.”

“Oh,” I whimpered as I trudged off to the meeting.

In olden times, the orator did everything. His (and he usually was a he back then) words offered the pictures, the emotions and the logic of his presentation. His flailing arms, sweeping head and quick trots across the stage provided the only animation available to the audience.

To successfully communicate his ideas, the orator had to earn credibility from his audience. His vocabulary, his presentation style and his choreography all had to meet the needs of the listeners. If not, the orator would fail. The burden – and all eyes – fell solely on him.

An icon of technological prowess gave one of the best presentations I’ve seen recently. When Chris Brogan came to The Memorial Art Gallery last Veteran’s Day, (see “It’s Déjà Vu All Over Again,” November 11, 2009), I expected more of the same – a series of Powerpoint presentations. Leading up to this nationally renowned keynote speaker, the audience experienced a string of excellent speakers who used (albeit very creative) Powerpoint slides as their backdrop. The size of the screen dwarfed the presenter – and I was sitting in one of the front rows.

Then along came Chris Brogan – with nothing but note cards. We couldn’t help but keep our collective gaze upon him as he spoke. And you know what? Without the noise of the Powerpoint, I think I could actually hear him better. Who knows? Maybe I was just paying more attention.

D’oh! “Paying more attention!”

Isn’t that what’s it’s all about?

I’m not saying never to use Powerpoint – some venues look unkindly at you if you don’t. All I’m saying is remember the lesson from my radio days: no matter where you’re presenting, you – not the technology – are the product.

Oh. And by the way. I ended up making the sale at the radio station. But that’s another story (and to read that one, click here).

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