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You have to stop displaying PowerPoint slides. Instead, you need to perform PowerPoint.

“PowerPoint is simply one element of your content. The biggest problem with it is that speakers try to vest in it all the authority to influence listeners,” presentations coach Gary Genard says on his blog.

You have to break with some of the automatic habits of PowerPoint presentations and find more effective methods.

PowerPoint can certainly be a powerful visual tool, but it needs to be shown at the right time and in the right context. It has to be woven carefully into your narrative and displayed at the moment it will have the greatest impact – not just one slide after the other, rat-a-tat-tat, in deadly rotation.

He points out you want anticipation for each slide, so it adds interest. “The key is discussing what the audience is about to see, rather than showing the slide and then talking about it,” he says.

He offers as an example this approach for the benefits of a new idea: “We’ve just seen how seriously our profits have eroded in the last fiscal year. Now, I’d like to show you the new distribution system I’ve worked out. As you’ll see on the next slide, this will result in a 50-per-cent increase in our profits within one year. Take a look . . .” Everyone will be awaiting the slide and eagerly studying it.

Carmine Gallo, who has written several books on presentations, backs that approach, distinguishing between mere presenters and more adept story tellers: Presenters simply open PowerPoint while storytellers craft a narrative. “A bulleted list is not a story. A story is a connected series of events told through words and/or pictures. A story has a theme, attention-grabbing moments, heroes and villains, and a satisfying conclusion. Nicely designed slides cannot compensate for a poorly structured story,” he writes in Harvard Business Review.

He also offers these guidelines:

  • Presenters use text. Storytellers love pictures: Researchers have found that your audience will recall about 10 per cent of the content if they simply hear information, but 65 per cent if they hear information and see a picture.
  • Presenters dump data. Storytellers humanize it: Build presentations, when you can, around people. Add a face to the statistics.
  • Presenters are predictable. Storytellers surprise audiences: Novelty is critical – a story with some surprise.

Finally, he advises presenters practise silently, but storytellers rehearse out loud. “Most business presentations are forgettable because speakers forget they’re performing, not presenting. A great presentation informs, inspires, engages and entertains. In other words, it’s part performance and should be rehearsed like one,” he says.

On that score, content creation consultant Brad Smith advises to practice with a timer. “Consistency is key to an effective PowerPoint presentation. Timing should be similar (ideally the same) each time you rehearse,” he writes on Envatotuts website.

You will probably want to slow down your presentation because most of us move too quickly through the material. That allows you to emphasize, appear more thoughtful and make your information easier to digest. It’s also helpful to pause frequently, again allowing information to sink in. Use your phone recorder while rehearsing to check you are getting the pacing right and the timbre of your voice.

But the rehearsals should not just be about delivery. It’s also a chance to figure out where to rewrite. You’re bound to stumble over sections that don’t flow naturally. Instead of reworking your delivery, it may be advisable to rewrite those sections. “The most important part of creating a great presentation is the writing stage. The second most important stage is rewriting,” he says.

And in that rewriting and rehearsing, keep in mind Mr. Genard’s point: Create anticipation for every slide before unveiling it.

Quick hits

  • Australian consultant Sarah Vizer recommends placing the three or four items most important to complete that day on a post-it note and placing it at eye level on your computer. At the end of the day put it in your daily calendar-diary and write tomorrow’s.
  • Consultant John Millen’s advice to new college graduates: Focus on face-to-face. You have the most amazing technology in history in the palm of your hand, but the most important communications of your life will happen face-to-face, looking into another person’s eyes.
  • Humblebragging is ineffective as a strategy. Bragging masked by a complaint or humility is seen as insincere, research shows.
  • Don’t put negative emotions into your ads, warns marketing consultant Roy H. Williams. Your corporate name and brand will unconsciously become associated with pain and problems. Instead, write ads that make people feel good about themselves, their future and you.

Harvey Schachter is a Kingston-based writer specializing in management issues. He, along with Sheelagh Whittaker, former CEO of both EDS Canada and Cancom, are the authors of When Harvey Didn’t Meet Sheelagh: Emails on Leadership.

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