PowerPoint-less?

It’s not personal at all.

I am a good Word for Windows person. Autocorrect and I have had a strong, close, mutually beneficial working relationship for years – mind you when you’re writing ‘organisational communication’ often for your degree, you’d hope so!

I have got Excel to the point where my personal and work budgets work (well, the former kinda!); and in a galaxy far far etc a long time ago, I used Access databases, too.

But I have a confession. A confession of a speechwriter, who wrote speeches but was also expected to do the unthinkable …. do PowerPoint presentations.

I sometimes find PowerPoint pointless.

Now, I’m sure that there are some superb speakers out there who do superb PowerPoint presentations. I’m just yet to be at speeches where a great speaker and a great PowerPoint presentation have shared the stage at the same time.

And therein lies the challenge for mildly good public speakers – I wonder if PowerPoint’s become almost a crutch for some people at conferences. The speaker gets up, does the dot point Arial writ large with maybe some nice graphics and if we’re lucky, a wacky-do logo. But in doing the dot point dance, the reason for the audience to take any notice during the speech – the speaker – disappears.

Recently at a forum I went to some of the presentations were provided to the audience before the speeches themselves. Nice? No. It meant that we knew what we were going to be told and by the time the speakers spoke, it was just a case of tuning out while keeping half an ear to ensure nothing of importance had been left out. It hadn’t.

I’m not anti PowerPoint at all – I use it for work sometimes myself – but in set-piece speeches which I’ve either done myself or written in the past four or five years, I’ve kept as far away from PowerPoint as I can. Partially that’s because the context of the speech didn’t require it; partially because, personally, I think it’s often too easy to do a PowerPoint. Harsh? Maybe? But as an experienced Toastmaster, speechwriter and speech-giver, my view is that it’s better to engage with your audience directly, rather than have them engage themselves as they tune out using a PowerPoint-backed speech as an excuse.

Think of the really great speeches in recent times: Two come to mind – Barack Obama’s speech in Chicago when he won the Presidential election; and then his Inaguration speech in Washington, D.C in January 2009. I stood in the freezing cold of National Mall, captivated, listening to the President speak. Yes, he is a once-in-a-generation speaker, but that is because his words and the manner in which he delivers them embrace, they entrance. Obama is an orator par excellence – and his words shone through that freezing cold Washington day, calling out to us below, and countless millions across America and around the world. It was an embrace framed by that unquenchable desire of Americans to be better, stronger – a new century’s Manifest Destiny embodied in one man speaking.

Sometimes simplicity works.

Perhaps in the past I’ve been spoilt having worked for politicians who could get up and just – talk. They could talk and they could argue a point and they could handle a Matter of Public Importance debate at short notice or a Lateline Friday night discussion with the briefest of notes and a verbal briefing. The principals I worked for in my last role were teachers by profession and so were used to speaking. Many had incredible gravitas, all could handle themselves in front of a hall of unforgiving teenagers (and, dare I say it – parents). But both the politicians and the principals had to practice speaking with limited notes, sometimes with full, set-piece speeches, sometimes (in the case of Question Time) without only the barest of notes and lots of courage. PowerPoint was an optional extra and I’m hard pressed in my four years in Parliament to recall more than but a few occasions where PowerPoint was used – and then it was only for major policy announcements or briefings.

So, a request to people who use PowerPoint in conferences, especially. Either spend the time polishing your speech, your delivery and your timing but don’t go the easy route and do a PowerPoint. Surprise your audience – and yourself!

Really make an effort to think about who’s important – your audience.

Make us feel in some small way like you’re speaking to each and every person in that room. Make an effort. Think about it.

Otherwise? It’s all just – PowerPointless.

Photo courtesy of http://cultblender.wordpress.com/