Powerpoint and the Spoken Word

Read this on the SAP Plexus blogs:

Client: “Should I have a PowerPoint?”

Pistachio: “Why?”

Client: “I don’t want them to be bored.”

Pistachio: “Then don’t.”

Pistachio: “Is there anything you need to tell them that you cannot do with your body or your voice?”

Client: “No.”

Pistachio: “There you go.”

Pistachio: “Uh, do you mind if I write this down for a blog post?”

[From Plexus Beta: Killer Presentations: I don’t want them to be bored.]

Made me think of something I read today from the late Charlton Heston. In a letter to the editor of The Weekly Standard about a book review dealing with the works of Shakespeare, a body of work that Heston knew more intimately than any other American actor:

Being a writer, Sobran misreads Shakespeare as academics do: He treats him as a writer. I know, there he is on the page, but that’s not where he or his plays live. Shakespeare leaps alive in air, in the spoken sound of his words. Only actors really understand this, though audiences sense it subliminally, in performance. When you’re redacting the plays in rehearsal, you make the changes in terms of the sound as much as the meaning. Also the pauses.

I’m no great communicator it doesn’t take one to know that the way most people butcher a message with Powerpoint does neither them nor their audience any favors. The art of business communication is not forever lost, but it has quite often never been acquired largely because we have confused the medium with the message.

Heston writes about the spoken sound of words versus the written word, and I think that most great presentations come alive through the spoken word and not through the coldness that is a slide. Great presentations put the actor at the front and powerpoint in merely a supporting role.

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8 thoughts on Powerpoint and the Spoken Word

  1. What sucks is that so many events demand PowerPoint presentations from speakers. My MO is to use all images, no text on the slides (apart from perhaps a title), but this still creates a lot of unnecessary hassle.

    One of my favorite ever PowerPoint presentations was one that my buddy JP Rangaswami did. He couldn’t figure out how to compensate/acknowledge in a legally sound way the copyright holders of various images he’d selected, so he yanked them all from his PPT and left only the titles on the blank, white slides. It was surprisingly effective.

  2. You’re absolutely right, Jeff.

    When I coach speakers, I often remind them that PowerPoint (if used at all) should complement the presentation, not be the presentation. The star of the show should never be the slides; the star of the show should be the presenter.

    One tip that reinforces this is to insert blank, black slides into your presentation. When you want the audience’s focus back on you (where it should be for the majority of your presentation), insert a black slide. It is a subtle, but effective gesture to tell them to shift their eyes back to you.

    Audiences widely agree. An audience survey from Chris Brogan illustrates that audiences want presenters to avoid reading slides, use more visuals, and consider not using PowerPoint at all.

  3. @andrew: Peter Cohan in his “Great Demo!” book makes the point that you can use the “b” key to insert a black slide (dark screen) wherever you need one.

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  5. What a great post. I linked to it from my pitchmasters meetup.

    I am a fan of well put together powerpoints that only have LOL cats to punctuate my points, then I distribute slides after with a written form of my comments

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