Why you’ll never write a presentation around PowerPoint slides again

I don’t think there can be many people in the digitized world who don’t hate the way that many presenters stick incredibly complex PowerPoint slides up and then just read them out.

Of course in some ways that’s helpful, because were the presenter not to read out each slide’s content, people sitting more than a few feet away wouldn’t stand a snowflake’s chance in hell of comprehending it because the type is so small. But is this really the best way to communicate important information?

Speaking as someone who grew up in the business theater world pre-digitization (in other words when we used animated multi-image 35mm still film slides as visualization of spoken presentations) I was taught always to write scripts for speakers that used the slides in a way that was complementary to the spoken words and added to their impact…not just mushing along as a series of electronically contrived idiot boards.

PowerPoint, however, effectively has encouraged speakers to use these slides as a crutch and avert real affinity with their audiences.

In my current (non HTWB) work activities within elements of the British public sector, over and over again I watch presentations that follow exactly the pattern I’ve just described. Not only is it boring; also, its sheer “boringness” means that important messages are likely not to be absorbed well by the audiences concerned. And that’s where real trouble can set in.

Does this ring a bell with you?

Here is a video done by a Canadian “corporate comedian” (we Canadians just get it right, OK?) called Don McMillan, as shared with me by a fellow blogger, Paul M Johnstone (thanks pal!)

To me, this says it all. Enjoy, and take heed … McMillan may make us laugh but there is sooo much truth in what he says…

Thanks again to Paul Johnstone for bringing this to our attention.

Are you a PowerPoint junkie, or do you agree that it can absolve speakers from actually having to connect with their audiences? Share your views here please…

PowerPoint junkie or not, here’s the help you need for the words to make those images work:

“How To Write About Yourself”…how to make the most of yourself, whatever you need to write

“Business Writing Made Easy”…everything you need to know about writing for business in English

“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”…over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English

How women can be better than men at public speaking

Only the most hard-nosed male chauvinist these days would have the b*lls to say women don’t make as effective public speakers as men do. However, with some creative thought, careful writing (or at least speech preparation) and some sneaky tips from a drama coach (see below), I believe women can be better than men.

Firstly, of course, you need to ensure you observe some basic tips on how to put your material together. This applies equally to everyone irrespective of gender, but it’s perhaps more important for women to focus on being natural and comfortable with what you’re saying.

Men often can cover up poor material and a bad script by waving their arms and making a lot of noise in front of an audience; women doing that just look like braying battle-axes. Sad and un-PC, but true.  So here’s how to get that all-important material right in the first place…

Basic spoken speech writing tips

  • To get a true idea of your own natural speech style, tape record yourself is if you were talking to a friend about the whole subject, then transcribe it
  • Write in the style of the transcribed text (or that feels comfortable for you to say) – not how some people think “public speaking” should be phrased
  • Even if you want to make a formal impression on the audience, avoid long words and clumsy phrases – especially unfamiliar ones you could trip over when your stage nerves are making you edgy
  • Don’t use language you wouldn’t say in “real life,” and especially not as crutches to prop up weak content
  • Always write shorter sentences than you do for text, vary the length of them, and never follow one longish sentence with another
  • When in doubt, read it aloud – if there’s anything awkward you’ll feel yourself tripping over it

OK: now for the presenting element

In my book, “Wedding Speeches For Women,” I was very lucky to get some advice from a top London drama coach/teacher who came up with some very useful tips about women in public speaking.  Here are a few short excerpts from that …

  • A woman’s voice tends to travel and project better than a man’s because it is lighter and higher. However, this can tend to give her less “authority” when speaking.
  • An untrained female speaker should concentrate on keeping her voice as low in pitch as possible (without sounding Margaret Thatcherish!) to avoid any shrillness.
  • When practising her speech, she should do breathing exercises (the breath is the “petrol”, so to speak, for the voice engine – most people breathe too shallowly), facial warm up exercises, vocal warm up exercises and practice speaking to the end of a room, to the end of the garden, speaking while the radio is playing – all of these can help to keep the volume up.
  • Also practise speaking slowly. Record yourself doing the speech – you will probably be speaking too fast. Go at half the speed that you think feels right – then halve it again – that will probably be about right for public speaking!
  • Practice status: say the speech with your toes turned inward, your shoulders hunched, looking down or flicking your eyes around, touching your face and hair frequently. Then drop all those behaviors. Say the speech standing straight, looking straight ahead and sweeping your eyes slowly around from one side to the other, keeping your hands and head straight and still.

And what about humor?

There’s nothing more excruciating than listening to either a man or a woman telling a joke in a speech when they don’t have the knack for delivering it, or if it is inappropriate for the audience and gets no more than a polite chuckle from the event organizer and embarrassed coughs from everyone else.

When I’m writing speeches for clients who are not natural comedians, I always advise them to avoid trying to be funny because it will fall flat. Far better to be interesting, engaging, sincere and if relevant, emotive.

Much as audiences enjoy a good joke, humor is not the be-all and end-all of successful public speaking. Humor is a condiment that can add spice to a speech or presentation; but just like any other condiment, it can ruin whatever it’s sprinkled on if it’s wrong for the job.

Women are more subtle at making people laugh

In the case of mixed audiences as you would get at a wedding, bar mitzvah or other social event, I have to say I can understand how some people, especially older ones, might be offended to hear a woman tell bawdy, blue jokes in a speech. In the case of a wedding that’s probably the domain of the best man if there is one – not because it’s a masculine privilege, but because it’s boring to all but the few drunken rugby types at the back of the room.

However in cases of business or other non-social speeches, anyone telling a bawdy joke risks dying a death. And for a woman, that risk is greater. Why?

In some ways I think women speakers have an easier job of making audiences laugh, because they can get a laugh on a much more subtle level than men can – especially from the other women in the audience. Women do not need four-letter words or side-slapping hysterics; with just a smile and a few choice words you can bring the house down.

What really makes a woman a better speaker than a man?

…a presentation that’s honest, natural, fascinating and delivered effectively. No, it’s not rocket science; you can do it. Lots of us do. And by sticking to realism, strict audience-focus, enthusiasm and (dare I say it as this word has become such a cliché) passion … you’ve got it. Your presentation hits more spots than that of any man!

Good luck … and if you want to discuss this more please comment here…

Public speaking help, whoever you are!

“Super Speeches”…how to write and deliver them well

“How To Write About Yourself”…how to make the most of yourself, whatever you need to write

“The English Language Joke book”…hundreds of laughs about this crazy language of ours