PowerPoint is an excuse for effective public communication
Recently, I interviewed Douglas Kruger about his new book, “How to make your point, without PowerPoint.” I believe this book to be seminal for everyone who has ever had to make a presentation in the past, is preparing for one as we speak or envisages having to make one in the future. The interview can be found at:
Frankly, PowerPoint is killing the ability of those in school and at the workplace, to make an effective presentation. It provides a crutch for people to hide behind, transforms promising discussions on interesting topics into bullet lists without context, substance or interest. And yet, we are slaves to this package. Why?
Does it not go to the heart of who we are?
There seems to a direct correlation between the “flash” factor of PowerPoint and the presenters own insecurities. “Flash” is undoubtedly diversion and surely that is what the presenter intends when he or she is unable or unwilling to stand their ground and tell their stories from within, rather than in-relation to what is up on the screen.
I watch kids in school pouring themselves over their presentations for “Flash” instead of being taught to focus on substance and then have the discomfort of watching adults in the world of work doing precisely the same thing. Focusing on impressions being made with nifty, beautiful slides with all of the bells-and-whistles in-place, rather than communicating with their audience.
Kruger is not saying that there is no place for the use of PowerPoint. What he is saying however is that a great presenter uses PowerPoint as a tool rather than as the mechanism of communication with an audience.
Communication is certainly the factor at-play when it comes to presentations. Adequate communicators keep their thoughts in-order with notes that they refer to readily and steadily throughout their presentations, Good communicators seldom refer to notes. Great communicators speak from the heart and those speeches become inspirational.
Yes, naturally Great Communicators use aids to emphasise what they are saying in such a way as to imprint on their audience by the blended method of visually embedding emphasis and reference without distracting from their essential message, which they communicate verbally, with passion while talking from the heart.
Poor and even Adequate Communicators make the mistake of putting their notes up there for everyone to see and then making those notes the sole focus of their presentation.
What struck me in reading Douglas Kruger’s book, “How to make your point, without PowerPoint” was that it is such a powerful platform for integrating audio, video and visceral visual cues and clues and yet is so seldom used for this purpose. Instead it is used to transpose ones notes in a logical and readable format and then simply used for the purposes of reading aloud rather than communicating.
Great Communicators we all know are those who excel at Debating, Public Speaking, Toast Masters and even Drama in school. They do so without the use of electronic visual aids. Perhaps the most important activity I remember engaging in at school was entering a public competition called Just-a-Minute. Being able to talk on any topic for a minute without hesitation, repetition or deviation (without Powerpoint as a visual aid) now that was the kind of practice that made for developing ones kill at communicating publicly. The immediacy and viciousness of being challenged by ones opponents and even the audience on slip-ups quickly made a speaker conscious of his imperfections, his competencies and areas in-need of development.
Great Public Communicators are honed and skilled during their formative years at school and this is perhaps the central criterion for choosing a school for your child. Will that school develop my son or daughters public speaking skills? Will he enter a bumbling, confused and confusing communicator and emerge as someone who is able to inspire, engage, conspire and drag the audience along with his every syllable, idea and appeal? Does that school employ teachers with the ability and competency to develop my child in that way, or not?
I am always someone who has struggled with Public Speaking. Not because I was not schooled in the art but as one grows up in the World of Work, one is expected to become more of a specialist in topics, which are far ranging. As the scope of expertise is expected to widen so is ones intimate knowledge of every area spoken on expected to deepen and be wider-ranging. What always terrified me was the notion that my audience was always going to be far more intelligent than I was ever going to be, far more knowledgeable and certainly more familiar with the topics at-hand.
How I overcame those insecurities was never simple but practiced and conscious engagement with my audience. Getting down to the basics of interactive communication and never intending leading or preaching and patronizing my audience to the extent of putting myself out there for ridicule or public derision. I am pleased to say that that seems to have worked for me. I would however never have been able to engage conspirationally, with my audience, ever in that way, had I hidden behind visual aids and PowerPoint slides. My focus would always have been on being consistent with this independent person up there on the screen, this third force in the room that I was therefore always challenged with having to keep up with.
I maintain that every High School, should as a matter of good teaching practice, have to school their charges in Public Speaking irrespective of aspirant career choices. In do doing every single English Teacher should teach Public Presentation (without visual aids) as a matter of course and every single subject teacher, be the subject History, Biology Science or French, should enforce the competency of Public Speaking by method of application in the classroom and wider, for marks.
Public Speaking is as valuable as mathematical literacy, as language literacy and certainly as a central vehicle for effective communications. All of this should be taught and executed without the use of Visual Aids such as PowerPoint in the classroom.
The consequence of not doing this, are the armies of inarticulate and poor excuses for professional adults who litter the World of Work today. People expected to communicate effectively and make an immediate impact with every word and syllable they generously utter in the course of their professional days, while clearly not being practiced, competent or good at that job.
Read the book “How to make your point, without PowerPoint.” By Douglas Kruger. Get your children to read this book. Ensure that your schools use it as a textbook because by not doing so, you weaken the very fabric of this technology enslaved society we live in.