PowerPoint, for all its flaws and despite its bad rep, is still a pretty good tool when used to do what it was designed to do: create visuals to accompany spoken words and support our presentations.
But many of us don’t use PowerPoint that way. Instead of seeing presentation slides as something that supports us, we see the presentation as about the slides, and we play a supporting role.
It’s easy to fall into this trap–especially if you dislike public speaking, you’re happy to shift the attention away from you. Creating busy, text-dense, bullet-pointed monstrosities is actually easier because you don’t need to think too much. Just throw everything you think you want to say on the slides, hope the audience focuses on them, and let slides do the heavy lifting.
Assess your dependency
This is when you need to ask yourself several questions.
Why are you presenting and does this really give your audience a good experience?
Is playing second fiddle to your slides really the best way to get your message across?
Will deferring to the slides show your unique value as a professional and showcase what value you add through your words, through your passion, and in your interaction with the audience?
Or does it just show that you are someone who can use PowerPoint?
The presentation is not about the slides. It’s about the messages that you want to convey to your audience, in order to change them. Presentations should be about the presenter, so ensure the audience focuses on you.
Doing this forces you to get better as a presenter, to up your game. It requires you to become a better communicator. It also leads to a better experience for your audience, with more engagement. You must concentrate more on your audience than on the slides, and vice versa.
To break free from using PowerPoint as a crutch and as an excuse for not engaging with your audience, try these simple strategies.
Master the B key
An incredibly easy way to instantly shift the focus back to you is to press the B key in a presentation. It works in any presentation using PowerPoint or Keynote. The screen will go black (B is for black, so you can guess what the W key does). The audience suddenly has nothing to look at on the screen and their attention will turn to you. Press any key after this and the slides will reappear. Use this in any presentation when you see their attention wander.
Know your material
Through enough practice and rehearsal, you should become so familiar with your content that you can give the talk in your sleep–or if your laptop dies. This doesn’t mean you should be memorizing the slides. Remember, they are secondary to your main message.
Your storyline, structure, and key messages are all you need to know because they are what matters most. The more you get connected with your presentation’s structure and key points, the more you’ll see that slides become less necessary. You need to get comfortable with the ideas you want to get across, not what’s written on the slides. Be spontaneous for the rest of your presentation.
Be more visual
With fewer words on your slides, you won’t be as tempted to let them speak for you. That frees you up to look at the audience rather than staring at the slides. Think carefully about the words you will choose, reduce them to essential thoughts, and increase the font size. Add more images to turn each slide into something that your audience can grasp quickly, so they can turn their attention back to you and what you are saying. Plus it’s just kind to your audience to not force them to sit through text-heavy slides using size 10 font.
Tell more stories
Storytelling makes your presentations more powerful because human brains are wired to hear stories. We remember the story better than words and data. Storytelling also builds empathy and trust between the audience and speaker.
Most importantly, you don’t need slides to tell a story. The value of stories comes from you, from your words, voice, and gestures. You tell stories to your friends, family, and coworkers every day in normal conversation and you don’t rely on slides for that, so why should your presentation be any different? Case in point, Amazon banned PowerPoint in meetings to focus on stories.
Ditch the slides entirely
Do all of the above and you’ll reduce your use of slides. But why assume that you need slides in a business meeting at all? If you can rely on the strength of your words and ideas, let those persuade your audience and drop the PowerPoint. Use a whiteboard to sketch out ideas piece by piece, and maybe use a few handouts for any supporting data or figures. Your audience will thank you. There are very few people out there who think the world doesn’t have enough PowerPoint.
Show PowerPoint who’s the boss. Take back control of your presentations and reduce your dependency on slides. You’ll become a better and more confident presenter, and your audience will be happier and come away from your talks feeling like they actually learned something.