People like to throw rocks at PowerPoint, implying that it’s the cause of boring presentations — the ones with all those bullet points on the slides and charts you can’t read.
PowerPoint is not the problem. It is not to blame for boring presentations, and using some other tool, like Keynote or Google Slides, or Prezi, will not make any difference. (Although Prezi can have the added benefit of leaving the audience not only bored, but seasick.)
When you’re subjected to a "Death by PowerPoint” presentation, the problem is in the way the speaker has prepared. The speaker has thought about all the things they know about their topic, they’ve put these into an outline, and they’ve left the outline on the slides, usually as a prompt to help them remember what to say during the presentation.
A more difficult, but much more effective way to prepare a presentation, is to consider it from the audience’s point of view — what will help them most to understand, feel, and remember your key message.
So how do you do this?
I like to plan my presentations in three stages — message, visuals, and delivery.
- Message. The key question I ask here is, “How can I identify the essence of this message and convey it simply and clearly?” At this stage I am aiming for Clarity. I won't use PowerPoint at all while I’m doing this. I might use a pen and a notebook, or I might use Evernote. At the end of this phase I will put an outline into PowerPoint or Keynote, but I’ll use outline mode, rather than putting the outline on the slides.
- Visuals. Here I ask myself, “What images will help my audience to understand, feel, and remember this message?” I am going for Impact. I fill the whole slide with with an image, or a highly simplified diagram that’s easy to read at a glance, with only a very few words. If you want a tool that will enforce this discipline, try Haiku Deck. (And then you can export to PowerPoint if you like. I won’t tell anyone.)
- Delivery. Here I ask, “How can I use stories, humour, timing, interaction, voice, and movement to bring the presentation to life?” I am going for Engagement.
Is this harder than putting an outline on some slides? Yes.
Is it worth it? Well, how important is it that your audience gets your message?