Image by Ed Yourdon on Flickr (CC BY SA)
Guest post by Deborah Elizabeth Finn
Technology for the Nonprofit and Philanthropic Sector
Most days of the week, I tend to think of information technology as morally neutral. But I do find some applications to be irritating or counter-productive – especially as they are often used in the nonprofit/philanthropic sector.
PowerPoint falls squarely into that category.
I came to that conclusion years ago, and Microsoft’s recent enhancements to the world’s most popular presentation software haven’t changed my mind. My view is based on two questions that I asked myself:
(1) When have I enjoyed giving a presentation based on PowerPoint?
(2) When have I enjoyed or learned a lot from someone else’s PowerPoint presentation?
Although I try to avoid giving PowerPoint presentations these days, I had no trouble answering Question No. 1 on the basis of previous experience. I almost always liked it. It’s great to have my talking points, my graphic displays and my annotations packaged in one document. It’s very convenient — assuming there’s no equipment failure on the part of the projector, the screen, the computer or the storage medium that holds the PowerPoint document (not always a safe assumption).
In short, PowerPoint is designed to make presenters reasonably happy. Except in cases of equipment failure.
The answer to Question No. 2 is a little more difficult. I can be an exacting judge of how information is presented and of whether the presenter is sensitive to the convenience and learning styles of the audience.
Perhaps the presenter put too many points on each slide, or too few. Perhaps I was bored, looking at round after round of bulleted text, when graphic displays would have told the story more effectively. Perhaps I wondered why the presenter expected me to copy the main points down in my notebook when she knew all along what they were going to be. Perhaps the repeated words, “Next slide, please,” spoken by the presenter to her assistant seemed to take on more weight through sheer repetition than the content under consideration. Perhaps there were too many slides for the time allotted, or they were not arranged in a sequence that made it easy to revisit specific points during the question-and-answer period.
In short, with a few spectacular exceptions, PowerPoint as a medium of presentation does not tend to win friends and influence people.
How to put your presentation skills to good use
However, all is not lost. If you have struggled to attain some high-level PowerPoint skills, and your role in a nonprofit/philanthropic organization calls for you to make frequent presentations, I can offer you advice in the form of the following three-point plan:
- Knock yourself out. Create the PowerPoint presentation of your dreams. Include all the bells and whistles. Be sure to write up full annotations for each slide.
- Print out this incredible PowerPoint presentation as a handout and give a paper copy to each person at the beginning of your talk. As a bonus, you can also tell your audience where they can view or download it on the Web.
- Pare down. Cull out all but five or six slides for each hour of your planned presentation. These should include only graphics that must be seen to be believed and text that is more effective when read silently than when spoken. This severely pared-down version will be the PowerPoint document that you will actually use during your presentation.
I realize this may not be entirely welcome advice, but it will help you serve your organization’s interests by connecting more effectively with your audience. After all, that’s why you’re giving the presentation.
If you still believe that PowerPoint is the best tool for engaging stakeholders in your mission, my final advice to you is to review the PowerPoint version of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.