Facing a misuse of “Power”

HR cannot afford to have people walk away thinking you’ve wasted their time.

I can’t stand poorly run meetings. Too many people talking, distracted participants, the list goes on. But, there’s one thing worse than a bad meeting: a generic PowerPoint presentation. Unfortunately, just like bad meetings, there are too many cases of PowerPoint misuses when it comes time for speakers to take their turn at the podium.

The reason why such presentations are worse than a meeting is that they represent one-way communication. If it’s bad, there is no way for the listener to make it better. You can change the course of a meeting, but with a bad presentation it’s a case of “click on the LCD projector, dim the lights and settle in!”

Speakers should be concerned only with one thing when presenting to an audience, be it internal or external. That is, “Has the audience come away from this with information that was in-line with the original point of the presentation?” If people leave your presentation confused and wondering what the point was, your presentation has failed.

In human resources, presenting information properly to employees is vital. From introducing benefit plans to training programs, HR cannot afford to have people walk away thinking you’ve wasted their time.

Presentations do not usually have a problem with lack of information. Most of the time there is too much. The biggest issue is the way it’s presented.

What happens when you cloud your presentation with visuals that aren’t up to par? (Pictures that are taken right out of the generic clipart folder and put in to fill space. The background is “blue/grey” with the squiggle down the side, because it’s the default background) You send the message that your presentation will be of the generic kind, so sit back and relax, you’ve seen it before. You lose your audience before you can present your information.

I’ve witnessed companies that outsource their external presentations to graphic design firms, but for internal audiences it’s given to whoever is around that knows how to open the program. The message to employees is very simple: You aren’t as important to us.

Purchasing a CD set of backgrounds and pictures to customize a PowerPoint presentation is a smart investment. I use Digital Juice (www.DigitalJuice.com) and I have hundreds of themed backgrounds and thousands of photos to choose from, most of which I’ve never seen in any other presentation.

Then there is the flipside: overdoing it. The overuse of technological bells and whistles in presentations is an under-recognized problem. Many presenters think, “If it’s new and dynamic; it will make my presentation much better.” But, there is nothing better than a presentation that is done professionally with only limited effects.

A common mistake is the overuse of PowerPoint animations and transitions during a slideshow. I’m sure you’ve seen what I’m talking about: the presenter that animates each sentence so it flies in, drops down and explodes on the screen with an accompanying sound effect. What happens after that? The audience loses track of what the presenter is saying, forgetting within three seconds what the point was because they were so focused on the effects that they missed the content.

While the thought process behind these special effects is, “This highlights my point and emphasizes the importance,” the outcome is often the opposite. People tend to get distracted by the effects. Especially with sounds, where the presenter can hear the whooshing noise, along with the few in the front of the room. The people in the middle think they heard something, but couldn’t make it out and the people at the back are wondering why there is a fly somewhere in the meeting room. Laptops were not meant to project sound to fill a room, so don’t use them to do that.

Want to emphasize a main point? Put it on the screen by itself and let people read it. A good rule when using PowerPoint, or any other presentation software, is to put up only your main points and use the screen as a reference. If you run through your presentation (which you must do many times) and you see a slide with more than five points, start a new slide. Your slideshow is not the presentation, it is an aid.

If what you say when you expand the bullet points is useful for the audience to take away, put it in the handout. Then let them know at the beginning of your presentation that you will give out copies of the slides. Unless you want a mutiny on your hands, avoid letting people take notes all through the session, then give them a handout at the end with all the points on it.

Make sure you give the handouts at the end, unless it’s crucial they follow along with them, or again you will distract your audience.

If you have a quote or a long statement that cannot be chopped up into bullet points, either put it up on the screen and allow people to read it or read it out loud from your notes, but not both. As much as people like to think the opposite, we can only do one thing at a time. If someone is reading the screen, they are not listening to you, and vice-versa.

If only the main points are on the screen, the audience will realize the importance of them. Don’t overwhelm your audience with techno-fluff. The power of technology is neither the point of your presentation, nor the strength of it. The technology should be used only sparingly or to reinforce the information you have to share. After all, the goal is to make sure they leave the room with the right information.

Scott Stratten is a speaker/trainer and the creator of WorkYourLife.com. He can be reached at [email protected] or (905) 844-2818.

Latest stories