Archive for April 22, 2007

Powerpoint, What’s The Point?

April 22, 2007

Powerpoint presentation seems to be commonly used in speeches, teachings, workshops of all forms. It has apparently been so integrated into events that no formal presentations can seem do without it. I have even heard some commented that it is totally unprofessional for a speaker to present without powerpoint slides.

On 20 April 2007, The New Paper published an article that highlights the conclusion of a new study from University of New South Wales, Australia. According to the study, it claims that “many who sit through PowerPoint presentations end up bored when faced with a seemingly endless stream of mission statements, charts, slogans, messages in capital letters for emphasis, and proposals given in bullet points.”

What is pointed out in the study is that in most presentations, it is a “common scenario” that “the speaker, often an executive or trainer, merely repeats the words on the slides so the audience gets the information twice.”

Therefore, what results is “that kind of repetition makes the brain switch off” “because the human brain cannot cope with processing information coming from a screen and a voice at the same time.”

Powerpoint is then called “a disaster” and ought “to be scrapped” because they “have little power and even less point.”

Prof John Sweller, Head of the study team said, ”The use of the PowerPoint presentation has been a disaster. It should be ditched. It is effective to speak to a diagram, because it presents information in a different form.”

‘”But it is not effective to speak the same words that are written, because it is putting too much load on the mind and decreases your ability to understand what is being presented.”

‘PowerPoint can backfire if the information on the screen is the same as that which is verbalised because the audience’s attention will be split between the two.’

He said reading from the powerpoint “does not double the chances of the message getting across.”From my personsal experience in training and coaching trainers, powerpoint slides do have limitation in the form of getting attention and focus of the participants.

For example, if you flash the slides on the giant screen while attempting to explain certain concepts, the audience will have diffused attention because their mind are deciding at the same if they should look at the slides or listen to you.

If your slides are “too pretty” and “visually fasinating”, the audience will be mesmerised by the colorful, stunning slides that you actually have to compete for attention against your own creation. This is especially even more if the powerpoint slides are overly filled with texts where audience will actually be inclinded to read them the moment its flashed.

How to make the presentation even worse? Simply read out the words to the audience verbatim as they appear on the slides.

I was seating through a number of seminars sometime back. The trainers gave out the slides as handouts while at the same time lecturing on the same slides from the big screen AND verbally reading to us… word–for–word. I can even predict what is happening for the next 5 minutes.

My mind started to wonder, “why not just give me the handouts, I can definitely stay at home and read them myself.” Then a few heads beside me yawned…

To be fair to the creators of this presentation sofware, Chris Rothwell of Microsoft Corporation, said: ‘We believe that PowerPoint remains a very powerful tool that can add impact and variety, but it is no substitute for being a good communicator.’

In my opinion, the real onus actually lies with the presenters and HOW they use Powerpoint rather than in powerpoint itself. Just think, all these while you can actually choose not to use the powerpoint slides. So if the session turns out poorly, who is to be responsible for making that choice of using it and what was displayed on it?

Powerpoint can sometimes be important and helpful when presenting to a large audience in a convention where you appear to be no bigger than a 14cm Lego figurine to those sitting at the back. Most part of eye contact and body language will be lost. And if the sound does not travel as far… Good luck to you.

Whenever I speak at a convention or a massive seminar numbering from hundreds to thousands of people, I make sure the last row of my audience can get my message and information as much as possible. It is part of my responsibility as the speaker and trainer of the event.

Powerpoint visuals can be also used to illustrate complex diagrams, statistics, charts, process and systems where words may fly by their ears. But wait! Why do you even display complex things in the first place? Aren’t you supposed to simplify things?

Here are a few tips to remember for those using Powerpoint:

1. Powerpoint is just a tool. It is meant to aid you, not takeover you.

2. Use every slide with a purpose in mind, not just because its there or because it looks nice to have.

3. Avoid reading the points word for word, it insults the audience.

4. Elaborate if you need to, only to make the information clearer.

5. Keep the information displayed short and simple, not complicated, complex and confusing.

6. You are the REAL center of attention, not the powerpoint.

Ultimately, the decision to use Powerpoint or not is yours. Whatever your opinion regarding this is, you are responsible for making your presentation work for your audience.

Get the point?