Feeds

Missing the PowerPoint of public speaking

Sliding into submission

The essential guide to IT transformation

Column The oxymoron "interesting PowerPoint presentation" was offered as a small witticism a few months back. I thought it was good, and shared it with a friend, who reacted angrily: "Blame the workman, not the tools," he said. Frankly, (I told him) I disagree. Powerpoint inherently ruins a presentation in 95 per cent of cases.

We've all heard the phrase "death by PowerPoint" - that numbing feeling the brain suffers as confusing slide after confusing slide follow one another. I have to do a lot of public speaking, and am one of those lucky people who think on their feet, without being afflicted by terror. But I couldn't help feeling that the good feedback I got from audiences wasn't just because I was a brilliant speaker. I'm not!

The common factor between my own presentations and others which were far better informed, researched and presented, was that they used PowerPoint and I didn't. Eventually, it dawned on me that PowerPoint really does ruin a good speech.

Academic research seems to back up my analysis. Professor John Sweller of the University of New South Wales said: "If you have ever wondered why your eyes start glazing over as you read those dot points on the screen, as the same words are being spoken, take heart in knowing there is a scientific explanation - it is more difficult to process information if it is coming at you in the written and spoken form at the same time."

My own dissertation, which I posted in a private CIX conference in 2005, said: "The problem is knowing when visuals are a help and when they aren't. There are indeed a few situations - of the 'blackboard notes' lecture type - where PowerPoint is actually useful - where you want to have your audience stop and write down what you're saying.

"It's not rocket science. If you want your audience's attention, don't distract them."

Blackboard note-giving, I suspect, is more useful than most speakers allow for. If they did that, they'd find Powerpoint useful. But, of course, they don't. They fall between two stools.

What they actually do is to put up a slide which, if the audience had time to write it down, consider, and study it, would be useful information. But, because they are presenting they feel they have to be entertaining, and they can't just shut up and let you make notes - which makes it hard to focus, either on the screen or on what the speaker is saying.

I have a very simple rule: If you want to illustrate your talk with the occasional amusing cartoon, do...but don't make the mistake of doing that at the same time as you try to make a technical or sales point.

Professor Sweller goes further and says notes should not be read aloud off the blackboard: "The use of the PowerPoint presentation has been a disaster. It should be ditched. It is effective to speak to a diagram, because it presents information in a different form. But it is not effective to speak the same words that are written, because it is putting too much load on the mind and decreases your ability to understand what is being presented."

Of course, if you are not a confident public speaker, notes can help. I would actually recommend using PowerPoint in preparation and then using it purely as an aide memoire.

The essential guide to IT transformation

More from The Register

next story
6 Obvious Reasons Why Facebook Will Ban This Article (Thank God)
Clampdown on clickbait ... and El Reg is OK with this
No, thank you. I will not code for the Caliphate
Some assignments, even the Bongster decline must
Caught red-handed: UK cops, PCSOs, specials behaving badly… on social media
No Mr Fuzz, don't ask a crime victim to be your pal on Facebook
Barnes & Noble: Swallow a Samsung Nook tablet, please ... pretty please
Novelslab finally on sale with ($199 - $20) price tag
Ballmer leaves Microsoft board to spend more time with his b-balls
From Clippy to Clippers: Hi, I see you're running an NBA team now ...
Banking apps: Handy, can grab all your money... and RIDDLED with coding flaws
Yep, that one place you'd hoped you wouldn't find 'em
Video of US journalist 'beheading' pulled from social media
Yanked footage featured British-accented attacker and US journo James Foley
Call of Duty daddy considers launching own movie studio
Activision Blizzard might like quality control of a CoD film
Primetime precrime? Minority Report TV series 'being developed'
I have to know. I have to find out what happened to my life
prev story

Whitepapers

A new approach to endpoint data protection
What is the best way to ensure comprehensive visibility, management, and control of information on both company-owned and employee-owned devices?
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Maximize storage efficiency across the enterprise
The HP StoreOnce backup solution offers highly flexible, centrally managed, and highly efficient data protection for any enterprise.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.