Archive for August, 2011

How Lovely to Listen!

August 22, 2011

I have been training to people to deliver presentations for some 25 years, and it dawned on me recently that the presentations I witness are getting duller and duller. You see, when I train people I train them to entertain and to inspire so that they are memorable for all the right reasons. I show them the best way to craft and structure presentations and then how to create and use the speaker notes to assist them with their delivery.  When I started training in presentation skills a speaker would very occasionally have a picture or an object to show the audience and back then these were ‘visual aids’.

Then came Microsoft with their programme PowerPoint. Now, of course PowerPoint can show pictures and objects – and when it is used for this purpose it is great. But all too often what I see projected onto a screen are words, words and more words which the ‘speaker’ uses as a very public prompt. So, they stop being a speaker and instead become a reader. How dull and boring is that?

However, just sometimes, it all goes horribly wrong. Their laptop won’t speak to the projector; the projector’s bulb blows; there is a power cut or some other joyous event that means that a speaker has to go ahead without their homemade autocue!  Now this isn’t always  fantastic, as often they don’t have back-up notes but where they are brave enough to carry on and SPEAK about their subject, something wonderful happens. No longer are we distracted by the whir of projector cooling fans; no longer do we have to squint at a bright screen; no longer, actually, do we have to decide whether the speaker or the screen gets our attention.

No, because suddenly we have the luxury of being able to focus our attention on the speaker. We can sit back and savour their words, their passion and their enthusiasm. We can enjoy the inflection in their voice, the words that they use, the verbal pictures that they paint in our mind’s eye. Suddenly they realise that they can’t drone on from bullet point to bullet point but that they have to use pauses to create paragraphs for us and summarise regularly to help us understand.

When they sit down to a thunderous round of applause there is always great respect for them. Others comment on how much they enjoyed the presentation. They recognise the joy of being able to simply listen to the speaker… and then they get up and boringly plough through screens of bullet points themselves!

The message is simple. Presenting, Public Speaking, call it what you will, is a great skill and each presentation (if it’s going to be truly effective) must be lovingly crafted. Each paragraph, each sentence, each word should be carefully selected for the impact that it will make and meaning that it will convey. Only when you are happy with the words that you intend to speak, only when you are happy with your prompt notes, only when you have practised and are happy with the passion of your delivery, then, and only then should you ask yourself whether you really need to use PowerPoint. Please, do your audience an enormous favour and consider the answer, “No”.