The first time I encountered a negative reaction to PowerPoint presentations was a year ago when I worked with a young executive team. I was shocked and totally unprepared. I didn't even have to raise the question about PowerPoint when I moderated an impromptu #eventprofs chat about re-engineering events for Generation Y audiences. I invited #genychat members to participate and they did. The objection to PowerPoint came up right away. After that, I made a point of interviewing a number of students and young professionals in their 20s. The results were fairly consistent. The under-30 crowd felt they had been "PowerPointed" to death.
The main objections were:
- the designs are tedious
- text heavy slides are a turn-off
- speakers reading from slides
- speakers are using PowerPoint instead of notes for presentations
A year later and the objections to PowerPoint seem to be cropping up everywhere, in the news, on blogs, you name it:
- Swiss political party bids to ban PowerPoint presentations
- Meetings association bans bad PowerPoint
Simpler, more involving material including photos, videos, demonstrations and storytelling are encouraged. All on-screen images are to be accompanied by no more than ten words.
The answer is not to turn back the calendar to the early 1990s when overheads were king. Speakers fumbled with notes on index cards and stacks of slides. (By contrast, PowerPoint for business meetings seemed avant garde.)
Opponents of PowerPoint presentations forget that only 20% of learners are primarily auditory. Most audiences do require visual cues as well as interactive exercises. Few speakers have the skills to
keep an audience engaged without visual aids.
Be careful what you wish for. The easiest way to put an audience to sleep is to just talk at them. Technology is not the problem or the answer. Baby boomers will remember that "death by PowerPoint" is just as boring as the speakers of yesterday who distributed tedious stenciled or mimeographed handouts (picture, left) and droned on ad nauseam while flipping overheads.
So, in less than 25 years has the time for PowerPoint come and gone? Technology is not the problem. Audiences are objecting to the abuse of PowerPoint. They still seem to react well to visuals consisting primarily of photos, captions and headlines. Today's audiences are interested in examples, anecdotes and stories from the school of hard knocks. They want a chance to discuss and engage.
What does this mean? It means that speakers have to really be on top of their game. They need to go back and master the fundamentals of using notes and telling a story. It also means learning how to engage an audience and use a variety of interactive approaches to get them involved.
Presentation skills have almost become a lost art. Toastmasters and NSA meetings should be full and professionals should be signing up for presentation skills classes in droves. Unfortunately, many of these programs were discontinued when a lot of companies threw all of their eggs into the e-learning basket. Companies that relied on presentations skills workshops as their flagship programs have either gone out of business or dramatically expand their offerings. It is as if companies were of the opinion that they no longer needed to provide training as, with PowerPoint, anyone could design and deliver a presentation.
Are PowerPoint presentations really dead? I think it's the wrong question. The backlash against PowerPoint is really just a reaction to bad presentations by:
- speakers who have been too complacent to hone their craft.
- companies and conference planners that have been too short sighted to insist that they do.
No technology can fix that.