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PowerPoint User Error Kills Millions

Maybe no one has actually died, but many, many millions have died inside. Their very hearts and souls have been crushed under the weight of dense, dull PowerPoint decks that were surely not designed for human consumption. These unnecessary deaths could be prevented and you could be part of the solution.

First, let me say that I love PowerPoint and use it in the vast majority of my presentations. It’s an excellent tool when used appropriately. If functions as a visual aide for the content; it is never all of the content because that would be abusive to my audience and potentially cause many to suffer unnecessarily. I once had a client text me from a presentation where the presenter had 89 slides of nothing but bullet points on every single slide. She feared that she wouldn’t survive the hour presentation and wanted me to rescue her. She knew how many slides there were because the presenter distributed the deck in advance with all of these bullet points and words. To which I replied, “Le sigh.” What happened to this man in his early formative career to make him so angry and want to punish the world?

It seems that no matter how many articles are written about death by PowerPoint we cannot move the needle in our quest to lower the death rate. Otherwise very smart people insist that their content requires this sort of violence against humanity and there is no other way to deliver their very important ideas. To which I reply, “Poppycock!”

You can present complex ideas and critical information in a way that doesn’t seem like you’re reading the disclosures to a prescription or the instructions to installing an air conditioning unit. If you can’t, then get yourself some help. There are plenty of people like me who can make you a rock star presenter. I’ve worked with attorneys, accountants, engineers and entrepreneurs – you can learn to do this. 

When you deliver PowerPoint presentations that risk killing your audience, they do not take kindly to you. In fact, they wish you ill. The silence, glazed eyes and torso rigidity are indicators that they are probably dying a slow death and are wishing a pox upon your house.

When no one speaks to you after your presentation, it’s because they are rushing towards life outside of what is referred to as the death zone, which is the one -mile radius from which you delivered your presentation. And sadly, they also don’t like you. They don’t. You may be a lovely person, kind to animals, and a leader in your community, but when you hold people hostage in a presentation and make them suffer for one, two or three hours of their life that they will never get back – they are likely to never want to speak to you again.

Sometimes when I look at a PowerPoint deck with nothing but bullet points and graphs, I wonder the following, “Did you know you were presenting to humans today? Why do you hate your audience? Is this presentation intended to get you fired or exiled to an office in Siberia?”

If you hand me a deck full of sentences that I can read on my own drinking a glass of wine while taking a bubble bath, I have to wonder why do I actually need to hear you present the information at all?

I’m also incredibly confused by presenters who read the slides. What in the name of Betty White and all things holy are you doing? Your audience can read so why are you reading to them? Unless it’s intended to be a bedtime story in which case continue as you were, you’re doing a superb job!

Presentations are a privilege. A captive audience is giving you their time and focus. It is your responsibility to earn that gift. If you want to be worthy of that gift, then present as if you respect and value your audience. Presentations are also exceptional opportunities to convey your message, influence behavior and transform people. Don’t waste such a precious opportunity ever!

1. Remember that you are presenting to humans and humans are wired for story. It doesn’t matter what you’re presenting – you are always presenting to humans. Make sure your presentation has a narrative thread. There’s plenty of research about storytelling and the brain. We can no longer pretend as if we don’t know why it matters so much.

2. Use PowerPoint to present not to punish. Your deck should be visually interesting and not read like a manual or legal document. Does the slide elevate the content or bog it down? If you don’t know, phone a friend.

3. Don’t read your slides! Your audience can read. You should know the content well enough so you don’t have to read it. If you don’t just give everyone a handout and send them on their way.

4. Your PowerPoint is not intended to help you hide. Get out from under your deck and talk to your audience, don’t simply report information. If you don’t understand this, watch a bunch of TED talks. TED talks are not dependent upon presentation tools.

5. Ask yourself what you want your audience to know, do and feel? Once you’ve answered those questions, review your presentation to see if you’re accomplishing your objective.

6. Remember that it’s a privilege to speak to a group of any size, and treat that privilege with the respect it deserves.

7. Enjoy yourself. If you’re having fun, your audience is going to have a lot more fun. A PowerPoint deck that reads like a document – not fun.

I have every confidence that together we can reduce the unnecessary deaths and suffering of audiences around the world. Let’s come together and do this people!

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