Public Relations Professionals: Step Away From the PowerPoint!
Very early in my public relations career - I'm talking maybe during my first few weeks as a flack - I was called to a client meeting where I was supposed to present a memo on my firm's capabilities and what we had planned for them. I showed up on time and diligently began distributing the memo to the executives huddled around a huge highly polished oak table and nervously began running through my presentation in my head. As I was completing my shuffle and deal I noticed one top executive eyeing my memo with great suspicion. He grabbed it carefully with a thumb and first finger barely on one corner and held it up as though it were radioactive or stinky roadkill. Finally turning to me he said: "What's this?"
"It's the memo you asked me to prepare," I sheepishly replied.
"This," he asked, squinting at it like he had never before seen paragraphs and complete sentences with actual verbs written on a page.
"No, no, no," he continued, shaking his head. "We do everything in PowerPoint."
Having just come from journalism into the world of public relations, I had heard of PowerPoint and knew it was some sort of presentation software byMicrosoft. But that was the extent of my PowerPoint prowess at the time. I don't think I had ever seen it or experienced its wonders though the software was already more than a decade old.
Since then, I've become a PowerPoint Ninja and I'm now an expert at getting words and graphics to happily dance across multicolored backgrounds while my rock music and sound effects play and bulleted words and phrases in fonts no one has ever seen scroll and roll unhinged throughout my slides, each one of which dutifully contains my company's logo in the corner in case anyone forgets who prepared the presentation and who I work for.
It's a wonderful tool. Especially if your intention is to put audiences to sleep or redirect their focus to style rather than substance, or if you're just too wimpy and uninteresting to carry a presentation without the PowerPoint crutch.
Yes, I'm done with PowerPoint. It's never really done anything for me except distract me while I fiddle with the remote or projector as my audience just loses interest. Sometimes I can even hear them thinking "Oh great, another cheesy slide show with cheap animations and public domain graphics pulled off Google Images."
Although PowerPoint still has something like 190 percent of the market in presentation software, its use as an essential tool for important meetings is fading fast. It's more than 20 years old and hasn't really been updated much. But I think it reached its nadir this summer when the government of Iran used no less than three PowerPoint presentations to make its case for nuclear weapons development before a meeting of world leaders. (Maybe the country is violating nuclear treaties but it definitely violates the PowerPoint rules of punctuation, capitalization and brevity with titles like: "In the Name of ALLAH, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful: A framework for comprehensive and targeted dialogue for long term cooperation among 7 countries?”)
I'm not alone in my feelings about PowerPoint. Just Google "I hate PowerPoint" and you'll find a plethora of articles and diatribes against the software from a wide variety of writers, consultants and technical types. It's not thatPowerPoint is all bad it's just that it's overused. We've seen it all before. We're all familiar with the effects and fonts and backgrounds that there's no wow factor. Moreover, studies have shown PowerPoint authors spend almost as much time fiddling and diddling with design and artwork as they do developing real content, while audiences either get carried away with the visuals so much the content is eludes them or they are just lulled into a PowerPoint brain freeze.
So if PowerPoint is dead, what do we replace it with? Well, how about compelling speakers?People who can capture an audience's attention with minimal visual aides and have interesting stories to tell. People who understand performance presentation and work their tails off to keep audiences enthralled with true interactivity and immersion without having to resort to technology and computerized razzle-dazzle.
The problem is that's hard. And PowerPoint is easy. PowerPoint makes up for our lack of public-speaking talent. Yet, communications consultants (like moi) are finding there's a relatively new niche in counseling corporate executives how to give rich, compelling presentations sans PowerPoint. It's all in the stories, and there's a million of them and a million ways to tell them without bullet points and cheap animations.