BOOK REVIEW: Ditch PowerPoint and bore no more

How to Make Your Point without PowerPoint: 50 Ways to Present Effectively, by Douglas Kruger

SURVEYS about our fears commonly suggest that the fear of public speaking is at the top of the list – above dying. Which implies that many people would prefer to be in the coffin, rather than giving the speech about the deceased.

Any help we can get to improve our skill at presenting needs to be considered. In the world of work, we are often required to make presentations, whether it is to Jay who is moving on, or to superiors from whom we require consent and budget. The safety blanket in business presentations has, for many years, been PowerPoint and its like.

There is something comforting in having all or most of your speech on PowerPoint - you won’t lose your place or omit an important point. Additionally, you can present vast amounts of data in minimal space and time.

Google the phrase “death by PowerPoint”, and you will find over 17 million sites!

Douglas Kruger’s book is an entertaining and insightful collection of alternatives to using PowerPoint to get your message across, strongly, effectively and efficiently. The last chapter of his book - some five pages only - is entitled: How To Use PowerPoint Well.. If You Must.

If there are so many quips about “death by PowerPoint”, spending some time looking at alternatives must surely be a worthwhile activity. Kruger provides 50 alternative techniques for presenting effectively.

A good starting point is to understand the difference between facts and your message. “Your job is to do message. Facts are only useful to support and deliver your message,” he explains. Only teachers or lecturers are required to impart the best of what is known to others; as a business leader, your only job is to get your message across, not to educate.

As such, the best question to ask when you are required to present is: what is the message I want them to take away, or use as the criterion for their decision?

Avoid sliding into boredom

It is an often overlooked fact that speaking with conviction and having a connection with your audience beats a deck of cleverly crafted slides, every time. If you doubt this, can you remember the last time your partner came home excited and told you about the great slides they saw at a presentation? No? Can you remember the last time your partner came home excited and told you about the great idea, insight or story they heard? Very likely, yes.

Kruger provides many simple but strong openings that will get your audience to pay attention. A survey: “By a show of hands who believes…?” Or a powerful quote; Stephen King once said: “Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win.” Or start by being theatrical, start talking from the back of the room, stand on a chair, but do not start without having the attention of your audience.

If you start well, end well. Avoid the usual, “In conclusion…” or worse, petering out.

There is always a message you need to convey, but it does require significant mental effort to identify your central message.
Your goal as a speaker is to sell a message, and you can only do this if your audience understands what you are talking about.

There is a curse in knowing, and the curse is the presumption that others know what you know, so they understand why your suggestion is so brilliant. Kruger’s prescription is to contextualise, emotionalise, and then to sell your central message.

The context needs to be presented as a problem to be solved, because without a problem you do not have anything anyone needs to buy into. What exactly is the “pain” that your offering eases? Do you need a new car for reliability (the old one isn’t), enjoyment (the old one isn’t that exciting any more, but a new one would be), or status (now that yours has changed)?

Without “pain” there is no call for your solution. As a presenter you are selling, just as a car saleperson sells.

'Big Bum Thinking'

Great emphasis is given to metaphors and similes, with good reason. They are both easy to grasp and to remember. Kruger has a talk on “Big Bum Thinking” during which he opens with the question: “Do you blame the jeans, or do you hold yourself accountable for the size of the bum?”

This metaphor not only allows for a serious talk about victimhood and self-responsibility, but enables you to encapsulate the whole speech in a memorable idea, blaming the jeans or owning the bum.

Kruger was asked to assist a financial officer improve a dangerously boring presentation of his company’s success, not to staff compelled to listen, but to paying guests. After viewing his 64-slide presentation, Kruger asked the man for the message all these facts convey when boiled down to absolutely bare basics.

The response was: “I guess I am trying to say that this time last year, we were headed into recession, and they were terrified. We were quite scared too. But we made a lot of good decisions for them, and now we seem to be coming out of the worst of it. Things are picking up.” And 64 deathly boring slides to say just that!

The metaphor they used instead was of fearfully entering a dark forest, and turning to the adviser for guidance. He was also scared, but didn’t show it, and rather dug deep into his resources of knowledge and insight, and found a glimmer of light to follow. And now, they are emerging into the light. The charts and graphs were given as hand-outs after the talk.

What is your message?

This book is a very helpful guide out of the darkness, based on a rich collection of advice to presenters. Bore no more.     

Readability:    Light +---- Serious
Insights:       High --+-- Low
Practical:       High +---- Low

* Ian Mann of Gateways consults internationally on leadership and strategy and is the author of Strategy that Works. Views expressed are his own.


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