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Executive communications expert Dianna Booher discusses about Powerpoint presentations

You rarely go to a sporting event or participate in an outdoor concert without seeing a tailgate party in the parking lot. People open up the back of their pick-up truck, jeep, or SUV and use the tailgate as a table. They spread the food and beverages out, and party till the food’s gone or the event starts—or ends. But after the tailgate party’s over, people don’t drive their vehicle down the freeway with the tailgate open and the food spread out. At worst, they’ll cause a wreck. At best, they’ll likely get a ticket for reckless driving. The truck, RV, jeep, or SUV has two different uses—either a picnic or transportation.

Likewise, PowerPoint is a tool. Presenters can use it to create slides to support a presentation. Or they can use it to create documents.

Never confuse the two.

When discussing principles of slide design in our presentation skills training programs, participants often make comments like these:

• “In our organization, we use PowerPoint® just to write. Then we just make copies of the slide deck for everyone in the meeting to discuss the issues.”
• “The slide deck is my proposal.”
• “My boss wants to have a copy of my slides to review later and think about before she makes a decision. She wants complete information about all my key points.”
• “I go to a meeting just to answer questions. The slide deck itself is the real presentation. We send it ahead for everyone to read before the meeting.”

If you choose to use PowerPoint® rather than Microsoft Word for writing documents, fine. You can choose to write in all bullet points, with small font, and put 12-15 lines on a “slide” page. But understand that the outcome is a DOCUMENT, not a presentation slide. That document created with the PowerPoint® tool works fine as a handout for a sit-down meeting in which everyone will have a reference copy—as long as you know how to use it well and as long as it doesn’t compete with you for the group’s attention.

You can use that same PowerPoint® tool to create a presentation slide. But for that purpose, keep in mind that slide after slide of bulleted lists produces boredom and kills engagement. (The Microsoft software developer who decided to call a printout of the slides 3, 6, or 9 to a page a “handout” on the PowerPoint® print-option page, unfortunately, chose a misleading word.)

But Microsoft has created a way to easily combine the two uses. That is, you can create a Word document and flow that text onto PowerPoint slides. Or, you can start with your information in PowerPoint and then convert that information to a Word document. But that’s another blog altogether.

My point here is that what makes a great presentation visual makes a lousy handout. And what makes a great handout makes a lousy presentation slide.

One tool. Two different sets of design principles. Never confuse the two purposes or results.

As CEO of Booher Consultants and a keynote speaker, Dianna Booher works with organizations to address specific communication challenges and increase their productivity and effectiveness in writing skills, presentation skills, interpersonal communication, and client communication. An expert in executive communication, she is the author of 46 books, published in 23 languages. Her latest books include Creating Personal Presence: Look, Talk, Think, and Act Like a Leader and Communicate with Confidence, Revised and Expanded Edition. National media such as Good Morning America, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, Investor’s Business Daily, Bloomberg, Forbes.com, CNN International, NPR, Success, and Entrepreneur have interviewed her for opinions on critical workplace communication issues. Clients include 22 of the top Fortune 50 companies. www.booher.com 1-800-342-6621

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13 thoughts on “Presentation Skills: PowerPoint® and Tailgate Parties—What’s the Pushback?”

  1. Complex Word and Power Point documents print well within the closed loop of your own office, but take the file outside for printing and often major issues can arise.

    For complex documents that incorporate placed raster and vector images with native text, a true document assembly application like Adobe’s InDesign is the true professional’s tool.

    Of course mastery of Illustrator and Photoshop really help round out the skill set to produce polished work.

    1. Agreed, Rick. That’s why Beverley and Polly are masters of Illustrator, Photoshop, and InDesign rather than me. The typical presenters in the workplace–the engineers, accountants, marketers, salespeople, IT people that make “everyday” presentations to peers, suppliers, bosses, clients–aren’t graphic professionals who use these professional software tools. Many of these people use PowerPoint now to “write” a document and then try to project that on a screen, calling it a slide.

  2. I see so many presentations from veteran speakers who don’t seem to consider their audience when they load up slides with bullets, often in fonts too small to read by a crowd of 50+ people. Thanks for the reminder that PowerPoint decks and presentations should be separate! Hopefully more speakers will take the hint.

    1. Obviously, Mitch, you and I have sat through the same presentations! I recently was in the audience when the presenter prefaced almost every slide with comments like this, “Now I know you can’t see this in the back, but what it shows is…” Or: “This is another eye chart, but what I want to get across here is that …” Or: “I’ve got a lot of information on here, but what I hope you can see is …”

    1. Thanks, Gina. Most event planners at major conferences contribute to the confusion when they tell presenters, “Post your slides so that attendees can download these handouts after the session.” That is, they are using the two terms as if they are one and the same.

  3. Handouts distract the audience anyway because they are reading rather than listening. I like to use the Comments section so I can have a clean slide with images that tell a story during the presentation, and print the detailed explanation comments as a quick reference guide the audience can use later.

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