Back in the day, PowerPoint was the standard for giving a business or other presentation. The big problem with this good piece of software, though, was that people turned into narrators, reading their texts off each slide as if recording an audiobook. And despite all kinds of research showing that storytelling is significantly more engaging to the brain and that single images can be phenomenally memorable, tons of professionals are still stuck in that horrendous habit.

So if people are so informed about what works, then why can't people bite the bullet and ditch the reading? In my experience, it boils down to a handful of potential factors:

1. You don't feel comfortable with other modes of presenting.


A lack of experience in different venues and using different technologies can lead people to turn to PowerPoint as a default option.

Explore what other presenters do in their own presentations and test out a wide range of different tools--watch videos online, attend conferences, and ask to try out options or get demonstrations.

2. You lack confidence in your ability to convey the information in an impromptu way.


This might be because you don't actually have your topic truly internalized. But you also can want to lean on a script for fear of saying something silly or being caught off guard.

  • Study your material from as many angles as possible, and get people to ask you questions ahead of time until they stop stumping you.
  • Find as many venues as you can to discuss the topic conversationally.
  • Create a basic outline from your slides and force yourself to hit each point in a slightly different way or with a different wording each time you practice presenting.

3. You're scared you'll forget something.


When you go off script, there's a risk that you might leave something out by accident, especially if you allow the presentation to be interactive and comments and questions draw your focus in a different direction than you intended. Reading the slides is the easiest way to maintain control and ensure you cover the planned material.

  • Find a few good transition phrases that will allow you to pivot back to main topics if needed, such as, "That was an excellent question and discussion, but let me come back to x for just a moment."
  • Invite others to see or contact you after the presentation.
  • Politely point out that the conversation is getting a little too far from your main points.
  • Rehearse your presentation enough that it feels natural and automatic to move from point to point.
  • Know what's absolutely critical to leave in and what you can cut so you can adjust for time and based on audience interest.

4. The people in the audience are strangers.


Getting off the slides requires you to interact with your audience. Doing that requires some understanding of what is going to get people to react and understand you.

  • Take time to do proper demographic/cultural research (e.g., take classes, read articles, find statistics) and talk to a few people in advance.
  • Build some analogies or stories into your presentation that rely on universal concepts, issues or emotions.
  • Pretend that you are in different areas of the world every time you rehearse and try to adjust the presentation to the imagined audience on the fly each time.

5. You're too busy.


When done thoroughly, PowerPoint slides can be an excellent, clear source of information, summarizing key ideas and data points. It takes a lot of work to put all the slides together, however, and when you have a lot on your plate, you can latch onto the idea that the actual presentation isn't as important as leaving the audience with material that they can reference later. So you might skip rehearsing the presentation and instead focus on ensuring that the slides can stand alone, inadvertently writing out the necessity of your physical presence.

  • Delegate whatever you reasonably can.
  • Select priorities wisely and limit your to-do list.
  • Limit your slides to main points in favor of offering an in-depth reference list and a downloadable audio/video recording of the presentation.

6. Self-esteem is abysmal.


To really tell a story and connect, you have to be somewhat vulnerable and show who you are. You have to be able to roll with the punches and recover if something goes wrong. So you might hide behind reading as a cop out to protect yourself, prevent mistakes and guarantee that you don't have to reveal yourself more deeply.

  • Surround yourself with supportive people.
  • Engage in a range of behaviors that can show you your skills and decrease unreasonable fears.
  • Make peace with your inner critic.
  • Practice revealing yourself small pieces at a time, such as sharing a single, brief and insightful opinion or story from your experience. This vulnerability will encourage others to open to you and show you that trust is achievable.
  • Regularly remind yourself of your accomplishments and reflect on times where you recovered from and fixed blunders.

PowerPoint still has its place, but people often turn to it as a crutch for other deficiencies or mental hurdles they have. But all of these major hurdles can be jumped once you see them for what they are and consciously choose to see your presentation as a real conversation. Given that better presentations mean more respect, reach and authority as a leader, that decision should be an easy one for you to make.

Published on: Jul 10, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.