Taming the PowerPoint Monster

January 29, 2018 — 2 Comments

I have long heard that public speaking is ranked as one of people’s greatest fears-usually higher than their fear of death. Recently, I became aware that many people share a common fear of certain technology as well — the fear that they’ll never get it. Oddly enough, two of those great fears converge in our modern setting for public speaking and PowerPoint (or any other presentation software).

Unfortunately, many presenters and audiences share that same fear of the dreaded PowerPoint. Some presenters don’t even know where to start when it comes to PowerPoint. Some audiences fear Death by PowerPoint.

Frits Ahlefeldt death-by-presentation

I have been speaking with and without software for over thirty years. I’d like to offer some encouragement and suggest a few simple, but powerful, principles to save your next presentation.

Can We Talk?

Allow me to slip into motivational mode for a bit. Often our fear is based on the unknown or the worst possible outcome. It may help to realize that most of our fears are much worse than the reality could EVER be. I heard a great acronym that can help take the teeth out of fear. F E A R = False Evidence Appearing Real.

Sometimes we allow fears to paralyze us into inaction. Some fears in our life are good. They keep us from doing foolish or dangerous things. Other times fear keeps us from the success and effectiveness that we were destined and designed for.

The other major cause of fear is the unknown. We don’t fully know or understand something, so we’re unsure and unskilled. Learning new concepts and new skills can be solid ways to “punch fear in the face” (as Jon Acuff would encourage us to do). To overcome the fear of the unknown, sometimes learning new skills is all we need.

Overcome Your Fear of Technology

One of the reasons that Bill Gates and Microsoft are as wealthy as they are is that they have created a product that is generally intuitive and relatively easy to use. I realize some readers will laugh hysterically at that while other readers will find great comfort in those words.

For some unexplainable reason, I have seen many brilliant, capable, and independent people crumble at the thought of working in PowerPoint. During a speaker training event, I heard the trainer say, “Oh, I’m not good with technology” when a question came up about PowerPoint.

People can work wonders in a Word document. They’re excellent in excel and can dance around the database but somehow, the Kryptonite in PowerPoint leaves them powerless! Let me put your mind at ease, you can do this. If you navigated the inter-webs to find and read this article, you can use PowerPoint. There are a myriad of books and videos (free and fee) that can demystify presentation software for you.

Overcome Your Fear of Speaking.

You may never be called on to speak to tens of thousands of people in a single audience however you may be called on to teach what you’ve learned to a team of 10 at your job. Search for some introductory videos on YouTube or look for a local Toastmasters group. If you’re in a senior leadership role, get paid coaching. Don’t let fear rob you and those who will benefit from what you have to offer. Learn. Practice. Repeat.

If you are just getting started, please bookmark this post so you can find it again when you’re ready for it. If you are ready to move beyond the basics, let’s go. For me, the best way to overcome my fears in speaking is to be clear on my message, my tools, the setting, and the audience.

Know Your Message

As Andy Stanley would say, “Clarify the win.” What is it you want the audience to think, feel, or do? That’s key. Before you can choose the right tool, you must be clear on the job that needs to get done.

Know Your Tools

Once you are clear on the end result you seek to accomplish, the next question is “what tools should I use?”. This might seem heretical, but I’d encourage you to ask yourself if slides would help reach your goal or if they might be a distraction.

There are times that I speak in a new location that doesn’t even have a screen setup or the audience is not necessarily used to visual presentations. For that group, slides would probably be a distraction.

Other times, I’ve spoken in places where slides are not only the norm, it would be a distraction if I didn’t have visual aids and guides to help the audience process the message and to follow along.

PowerPoint is like a deluxe Swiss Army knife. Sure, it can do a presentation for a large group, but it can do so much more. I know graphic designers who use PPT to create page layouts for print projects, short animated videos, and even memes or other graphics for social media. So, it’s important to choose the right tool within PPT to help get your job done. More on that in future installments. For now, if you are just beginning, check the resources tab on my website for a few templates to get you started.

Know Your Setting

If possible, learn as much as possible about the room and location.

Do they have equipment in place (computer, projector, screen, outlets) or are you expected to provide your own? If they have a computer, explore the details involved in getting your file on the system and assuring it works in the room.

How many people are expected to attend the presentation?

DepositPhotos.com Image ID: 27074729 Copyright: real_texelart

How large is the room? Is it setup for 10, 100, 1,000, 10,000, or more?

DepositPhotos.com Image ID: 11125357 Copyright: pressmaster

However small or large the room is, be sure to use a font large enough to be read by an average person in the last row — without binoculars or a telescope!

DepositPhotos.com Image ID: 7451136 Copyright: Paha_L

Is this an auditorium set up for a speaker or a hotel meeting room with potentially horrendous lighting and acoustics? Will your slides be washed out? Will you have a podium? … a microphone?

Ricardo Sosa https://www.flickr.com/photos/chocogato/8002679289

If the facility has an older projector, they will often have to turn down the lights, so the video will be visible. Even though some facilities will have new state-of-the-art equipment, they will emulate more of a movie theater than a conference room. Either way, will there be sufficient lighting for people to see you? …for you to read your notes?

DepositPhotos.com 73572031 @ Rawpixel

When you are ready to take these factors into account when you prepare and deliver your presentation, you will enjoy a heightened level of confidence that will enable you to deliver the message you came to give.

Stay tuned (or better yet, follow me on Medium or subscribe to the Encourage and Equip blog). In the next post, we’ll discuss how to know your audience.

Kevin Cunningham

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2 responses to Taming the PowerPoint Monster

  1. I thought this was excellent. You’ve given a lot of good points and explained them thoroughly. I think the fact that sometimes it will be helpful to have visuals, while other times it may be a distraction is a good point. It’s determining which one applies.

    • Amen. Thank you Anne.

      I think a big part of that depends on the audience (and then the message and desired outcome). I will develop those thoughts in Monday’s post.

      Thanks again for your comment.

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