Giving a good presentation requires a lot of things. There is even some science behind how to combine good content, good delivery, and good visual elements. And if standing in front of a large group scares you to death, some experts have ways to help you cope with stage fright you can fearlessly engage your audience.
PowerPoint has become the presentation tool for most of the business world whether you are a massive Fortune 100 company or a small start-up pitching to angel investors for funding.
Regardless of your company size, here is a scenario that might feel scarily familiar:
Go to meeting. Watch PowerPoint presentation. Go to next meeting. Watch PowerPoint presentation. Got to next meeting. Give PowerPoint presentation (brilliantly, of course). Got to next meeting. Watch PowerPoint presenter read every word on every bullet of every slide. Go to lunch remembering very little about what was presented. Resume the same schedule after lunch.
If that scenario hit close to home, you shouldn't feel badly. It is more the norm than the anomaly, but you might want to think about whether you are over-using PowerPoint.
All presentations have purpose. Sometimes, it is to inform, educate, or give an update. Frequently, though, it is to influence or persuade people to do something.
If you are inundated with PowerPoint presentation after PowerPoint presentation, something happens. Beyond information fatigue, all of the information starts to blend together. Nothing stands out.
When that happens, you have lost the purpose and impact of your presentation and whatever you were trying to accomplish with it.
Even if you had the best PowerPoint presentation in the world with great visuals, staged animation, and all the other cool things you can do with PowerPoint (I'd be lying if I said I didn't like all of that PowerPoint geeky stuff, too), it still is one in a line of many all using the same format and structure.
And that says nothing about easy it is to become the presenter who relies on 89 slides with way too much information on each slide to possibly focus your audience or create the right level of discussion needed to successfully influence a decision.
Nor does it say anything about the all too frequent occurrence where you develop a great presentation, bring it to the group and never get off of the first slide.
The question isn't whether you should ditch PowerPoint. Suggesting that you never make another PowerPoint presentation isn't realistic. The question is whether over-using it is having a negative impact on the very thing you spent so much time creating an awesome PowerPoint presentation to accomplish.
How to decide if PowerPoint is the right tool for your next meeting
Here are the questions I use to decide whether I use PowerPoint or do something else. It all comes down to what you are trying to accomplish, and what your purpose is for the presentation:
1. Are you trying to generate new ideas?
If you answer "yes", then ditch PowerPoint for a flip chart and pens. This doesn't mean that you don't prepare and just show up with a red marker, paper, and a smile.
I give people generative questions to think about in advance so that they come prepared. I usually then summarize them on a wall poster before the meeting so we have something to start with when generating and evaluating ideas.
2. Are you trying to gain support for an initiative?
If you answer "yes", PowerPoint is still the right tool for the job but within reason and not necessarily as a stand-alone.
I try to keep the PowerPoint slides to the core most important elements and supplement it with hand-outs or even combine it with some flip charts to document dissenting opinions, issues that need to be resolved, or new perspectives. This creates a conversation versus fixation on a screen (which usually won't get you the support you are looking for).
3. Are you trying to teach people something?
If you answer "yes", ditch PowerPoint completely. This might seem contradictory to many of the training courses you have attended, but all of the research on how adults learn suggests that you learn best when you are engaged and working on the thing you are learning.
In other words, adults learn best by doing. Watching PowerPoint doesn't help you learn how to do anything other than watch a PowerPoint presentation.
The next time you have a meeting which requires some presentation or facilitation, try asking these questions. Your meeting might just call for an amazing PowerPoint presentation. It might not, though, and not using PowerPoint might just be the thing that elevates your presentation above the others.