Bad PowerPoint: When is Enough, Enough?


photo of sleeping people

Have you ever been slideswiped? You walk into a meeting and once everyone has arrived, the lights are dimmed and the show begins. The presenter clicks the mouse again and again, showing you slide after slide until you can take no more. Exasperated, you shut your eyes and doze off. You have just been slideswiped!

Or, have the training classes and presentations at your company become stale and commonplace? Do they tend to look and feel exactly the same regardless of the topic? Is the only difference that the words have been changed? Few stand out and you begin to wonder if anyone in your company is being creative anymore. Most of the bad power point presentations you see have probably started with one of the templates found in PowerPoint. Do you need to communicate bad news? Click on the template “Communicating Bad News.” Do you need to report progress or status? Click on the template “Reporting Progress or Status.” Do you need to create an employee orientation training program? Click on the template “Employee Orientation.” Do you need to create a company handbook? Click on the template “Company Handbook.” Your company now looks and sounds like all the others.

If you think these scenarios can’t happen, think again. They already are happening in companies across the globe. PowerPoint has become so popular it is now a synonym for a presentation. Instead of asking for a copy of the salient points in a training program or company presentation, people are now saying, “Please send me the PowerPoint from Wednesday’s class.” Scott Adams is cartooning about it, too. In the first frame Dilbert is using a pointer and says, “As you can clearly see in slide 397…” In the next frame the audience is tearing their hair out and one of the employees falls over on the floor. In the final frame, Wally looks at him and exclaims, “PowerPoint Poisoning!”

I was speaking at an off-site meeting for a software company and was scheduled to present immediately following the VP of Marketing who was talking about the possibility of downsizing. When I arrived, the room was dark and the VP was reading from the screen. I saw heads nodding and people dozing. He was on slide 23 and had 22 more to go! The audience had a handout on which each of the slides was printed and numbered and those still awake, read along with him. Why bother? There was no interaction and people were discouraged from asking questions. Just pass out the handout and go home.

Given the touchy nature of the subject matter, a “lights on,” Q&A would have been much more effective. The handout could have been distributed prior to the meeting so people could prepare their questions. Instead, he simply read to a group of scared employees who were in the dark to begin with and who he ultimately left in the dark.

Many presenters and trainers have become addicted to this technology. It’s like drugs are to junkies. The more it’s used, the harder it is to stop using it. It becomes a crutch. And, there’s a price to pay. Audiences tune out, fall asleep and dread wasting time sitting in a room where slideswiping is the norm. Productivity drops, learning doesn’t happen and humans disconnect. It seems presenters and trainers have forgotten how important it is to communicate with a group rather than just read to them, and how important it is to connect with an audience rather than just dazzle them with special effects. General Hugh Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, issued the following order to our military bases around the world, “Enough with the bells and whistles, just get to the point.” (Wall Street Journal, 4/26/00).

Remember, people process information in many ways. Some learn visually, others learn by listening, and the kinesthetic types prefer to learn through movement. It’s best to provide something for everyone. Let’s be very clear. Visual learners do not learn from bullet points alone; they learn from pictures, graphs, and images. Auditory learners do not learn from listening to sound effects like bells ringing and typewriters clacking. Instead, they learn from listening to an engaging speaker whose voice is powerful and who captivates their curiosity. And, kinesthetic learners do not learn from the movement of words on a slide. They learn from doing, touching, and moving around. They like to be involved and participate.

Invite audience participation

audience-participationUsually, people don’t participate because they suffer from low self-esteem or have been humiliated sometime before. Perhaps they learned through early experience that there is a much greater chance of being embarrassed than of being rewarded when they speak up in a meeting or a class. They might be afraid that they have nothing important to contribute or that they will appear foolish in front of others. They may also be disinterested in what’s going on; they may feel they don’t have a “stake” in the outcome. While there is no one solution to the problem, there are several things that can be done to enhance communication. Start by changing “Are there any questions?” to “What questions do you have?” Invite participation. You just might get it.

© 2003 Nancy Stern, MA
Nancy Stern helps people prepare and present dynamic presentations. Visit her on the web at www.nancystern.com or call for a consultation 1.800.280.2666 in the United States.

 

Published On: 27th Apr 2009

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