You’ve seen it. We’ve all seen it: Paragraphs of text, impossible-to-read diagrams, blurry pictures, long slide titles and yes, even primitive clip art. These are just a few of the issues that still manage to plague PowerPoint presentations created for and by many of today’s businesses. Presenters may have good intentions; but time and time again, I find that presenters still misunderstand the real purpose of slides in a presentation. With PowerPoint now 26 years old (they grow up so fast, don’t they?), it’s high time to clean up your presentation—and no, I’m not just talking about your slides.
Since its inception, PowerPoint has steadily gained traction as the must-have tool for business presentations of all types. But times keep moving forward and people’s expectations move with them. What was once considered the norm for many presentations has grown old and stale. No one wants to give a stale presentation. Nor should anyone have to sit through one.
So what is the point of PowerPoint then? First off, it is not your presentation; that’s your job as the presenter. You are the one who drives the presentation forward, informs the audience and keeps them engaged. Ultimately, at the end of the presentation, it is the presenter who conveys the message to the audience, not the slides. Establish yourself as the professional in the room and let your credibility, subject knowledge and engaging speaking ability do the talking. No one will read your slides and instantly agree with you. Persuade them.
Too often, I see smart and talented individuals who possess a deep understanding of their subject matter turn around to reference their slides, or worst of all, directly read their bullet points. You, the presenter, know more about the chosen subject matter than anyone else in the room. People tune into your presentation assuming this about you, the presenter. Don’t blow it by giving them reason to doubt this.
Related: The 5 Biggest Fouls of Presenting
When referring to slides in your presentation becomes habitual, you begin losing your credibility with the audience. Attendees may wonder if you really know what you’re talking about, or if you are reciting something you read online and hastily pasted into the slide. If this is the case, just send out the links to the attendees beforehand and tell them not to bother with your interpretive reading of the facts. To succeed in a presentation, the presenter must bring unique value to the table through their delivery of the information.
That said, there are circumstances where reading a slide word for word actually enhances your presentation. Consider: If a single word or phrase summarizes your point powerfully, it could stand alone in a slide, and reading it could help to underscore that point to your audience. It’s all about picking your words and your moments.
Still, audiences expect you to know your presentation inside and out, not to figure out what you’re saying after turning around to find your place in the slide. This will damage your credibility with the audience, and if that happens, it’s all over. No one will judge the merits of your presentation based on slides alone. Rather, your slides should aid the presentation (think “visual aid”)—they should help to further articulate and reinforce the points you make in your delivery. They should not constitute the presentation itself.
Don’t get me wrong—PowerPoints can provide magnificent support to any presentation. They can visually represent key points and relay technical information that is not easily spoken. When your slides cleverly complement your verbal presentation in such a way that audiences are engaged with you rather than pixels on a screen, you know that you are creating a unique and valuable experience for which people will thank you.