Wednesday Challenge: Worst Slide

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On Wednesdays, I am facilitating a brand new audience-centered series called The Wednesday Challenge.  I’ll give you a prompt, and you leave your response in the “Comments” section.  The prompt might be a question or it might be an activity.  I’ll share the best comment along with a new prompt the following Wednesday.

Last week, I asked you to tell me about the time you experienced the worst presentation anxiety in your life.  Here was my favorite response from TeachingPublicSpeaking:

“Speech class during freshman year of high school. I did not know when I signed up that it was usually a senior-level class and found myself in a class full of senior football stars and cheerleaders. Worse, the teacher sat in the back of the room barricaded behind filing cabinets barking lectures at us and the first time you saw his face was during your first speech. I’ve been a speech teacher for 20 years and the words “Motivated Sequence” still give me a cold chill because of him shouting them at the back of our heads. My first speech was a gray blur, but it made me determined to keep taking speech classes until they were second nature..”

YIKES!  I love the positive attitude and determination that came from this negative experience.

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This week’s Wednesday Challenge is an activity:

Show me the worst slide you’ve ever created.  

Take a picture or screenshot of the disgusting template-using, bullet-riddled beast of a slide and share it with me in the “Comments” section.  You can upload your “worst slide” to Dropbox and select “Share Link” to connect us to the image.

On your mark, get set, go!

Rethinking Slides: The Purpose of PowerPoint

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Last night, my professor gave our class directions for next week’s group presentations on a specific communication theory.  He said he wanted us to focus on clarity of ideas as opposed to presentation “glitz,” and he asked that we keep things simple and avoid a whirling, swirling Prezi.  When my group came together to discuss our theory and how we might present it to our classmates, I asked, “Can we NOT use a PowerPoint?”  By the reaction I got, you would have thought I asked my group members to put their hands into a wood chipper.

Undeterred by a little pushback, I suggested we avoid going the death-by-PowerPoint route and stick to a handout instead.  It took me getting approval from the professor before the group agreed.  I thought to myself… Since when did “PowerPoint” become synonymous with “presentation?”  And since when did suggesting we ditch the slideshow software become an outlandish suggestion?

Last week, I wrote “3 Reasons To Ditch Your PowerPoint Slides” based on an NPR article I’d read.  Last night, I realized we need to take an even further step back and examine the purpose of PowerPoint.

Death By PowerPoint

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The goal of a presentation is to share an idea with a group of people.  Sometimes, slides are a great way to reinforce that message visually.  Most of the time, slides aren’t necessary.  First, we must decide if we even need slides to communicate our message.  We can ask ourselves these questions:  What is my message?  What does my audience need to know about my message?  How can I effectively get my message to my audience?  Why does my message matter to my audience?  Would visual aids help an audience “see” my message?  If so, what kind of visual aids would be best?

Most PowerPoint slides don’t contain visuals to support the message – they contain the message itself.  If you skip these questions and open up PowerPoint, you are typing in notes.  PowerPoint isn’t a container for notes… It was originally created to be a visual aid.  A visual aid is defined as something you look at in order to make a concept easier to understand (Source).  A visual aid should be visual.  Text-heavy slides are just the opposite of visual; in fact, text-heavy slides are just your presentation notes written down.  Don’t display your notes… Your notes are for you.  Your audience doesn’t need to read your notes.  Your audience needs visual stimulation through actual visuals.

Molecular biologist John Medina studies the brain and names vision as our dominant sense.  He says, “Toss your PowerPoint presentations. It’s text-based (nearly 40 words per slide), with six hierarchical levels of chapters and subheads—all words. Professionals everywhere need to know about the incredible inefficiency of text-based information and the incredible effects of images” (Source).  Consider the picture superiority effect:

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So, if audience’s brains are attracted to visually-driven information, and if PowerPoint slides were originally designed to be visual, why aren’t we using the medium properly?

Guy Kawasaki interviewed presentation expert Garr Reynolds on this very topic.  Reynolds says, “We can make effective presentations with even older versions of PowerPoint—often by ignoring most of the features. Ultimately it comes down to us and our skills and our content. Each case is different, and some of the best presentations include not a single slide. In the end it is about knowing your material deeply and designing visuals that augment and amplify your spoken message” (Source).

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Think about how you feel when you sit in a room and watch PowerPoint after PowerPoint after PowerPoint filled with bullets.  After a few minutes, you’re tired, you’re bored, you’d rather be doing something else.  If your audience isn’t paying attention and would rather be doing something else, you haven’t done your job as the presenter.  Your job is to engage your audience, to inform but to entertain them, to get them excited about a particular topic, to motivate them, to persuade them… If your audience feels nothing but apathy and boredom, your presentation was a waste of everyone’s time.

Most importantly, if your audience has your entire message written down, they don’t need you!  Take a look at this PowerPoint called, hilariously enough, “Giving Good Presentations.”  Since I can read this information from start to finish, I don’t need anyone to read it for me.  I don’t need to go to a lecture hall, a conference room, or a TED convention to have this stuff read aloud for me.  That means this isn’t a presentation – it’s a document.  Anything with a bunch of text on it is a document – it’s not a slide.

Turning your document into a slideshow is easy and effective.  Instead of displaying your notes, use visually-driven slides dominated by images.  Doing so means your job as a presenter is no longer obsolete – your audience needs YOU to connect the dots and to explain each slide.  Garr Reynolds shows you some before and after slides here to get you started moving in the right direction.

Reynolds gives us one final thought, “PowerPoint and Keynote are both pretty simple tools, but there has been too much focus on the tools themselves. If people want to learn how to make better slides they should study good books on graphic design and visual communication to improve their visual literacy” (Source).

How do YOU convince people to rethink PowerPoint and to understand the purpose of a slideshow?

3 Reasons To Ditch Your PowerPoint Slides

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PowerPoint and Keynote slides are often so terrible that ditching them completely would go a long way in helping presenters connect with audiences.  I was taking a lazy Sunday nap and read an article on NPR called “Physicists, Generals, and CEOs Agree: Ditch The PowerPoint.”  The article makes three fascinating points on why we should get rid of those slides completely:

PowerPoint gets in the way of discussion

A team of physicists banned PowerPoint and forced presenters to use a whiteboard instead.  In their experience, people who used PowerPoint slides were tethered to those slides, and when it came time for group discussion, presenters couldn’t move beyond their slides (Source).  After watching thousands of presentations, I’ve come to the realization that unless presenters learn how to properly use Keynote or PowerPoint, they should ditch the slideshow completely.  In my class, students present team “Mini Discussions” with the goal of informing us about a particular topic and engaging us in a class activity.  I’ve banned slides for this presentation, and I’ve found that we can have a more natural, human conversation in class on each Mini Discussion topic.

PowerPoint is boring

Molecular biologist John Medina has released a series of Brain Rules books.  Medina tells us that the brain can’t pay attention to boring things.  According to his website, “What we pay attention to is profoundly influenced by memory. Our previous experience predicts where we should pay attention. Whether in school or in business, these differences can greatly affect how an audience perceives a given presentation” (Source).

Author Alan Yu’s interview subjects agree.  John Paul Chou, a physics professor at Rutgers, believes that “the main advantage of forgoing PowerPoint is that it forces both the speaker and the listener to pay attention.  With PowerPoint, he says, it’s ‘easier to let your mind go on autopilot and you start to lose focus more easily'” (Source).

I agree.  I’ve been in dozens of meetings, leadership trainings, and board retreats where as soon as the presenter flipped on the PowerPoint, everyone in the audience tuned out.  Since we’ve seen so many bad presentations with slides, our brains are comfortable shutting down as soon as we see the slideshow.  In many cases, the material was important and could have been interesting.

You can tell if your slideshow presentation went over well, and this lead us back to the first point of the NPR article.  If you give your presentation and no one has any questions, you sucked.  If you present your slides and no one has a single thing to offer, to contribute, to discuss, to ask, or to say when you’re finished, your presentation was bad.

PowerPoint is lazy

John Paul Chou of Rutgers “says the problem is simply that ‘we’re so used to giving PowerPoint [presentations] that we forget there are other means of communicating'” (Source).  Consider this: BusinessWeek estimates “350 PowerPoint presentations are given each second across the globe” (Source).  That’s an estimated 30 million PowerPoints every day.  How many of those 30 million presentations actually needed slides?  PowerPoint is the lazy way out, and its purpose is hazy.  Why did those presenters even use slides in the first place?  Could he or she have gone without the slide medium completely?  Could the presenter have done something different?

We also see people use PowerPoint as their speaking notes.  Instead of using the medium properly, a presenter will type all of his/her main points on the slide.  This is lazy.  World-renowned presentation experts Nancy Duarte and Garr Reynolds tell us that speaking notes belong to the presenter only, and PowerPoint slides should visually reinforce the content.  John Medina explains why: “Vision trumps all other senses.  We are incredible at remembering pictures. Hear a piece of information, and three days later you’ll remember 10% of it. Add a picture and you’ll remember 65%.  Pictures beat text as well, in part because reading is so inefficient for us. Our brain sees words as lots of tiny pictures, and we have to identify certain features in the letters to be able to read them. That takes time” (Source).

Take a look at Nancy Duarte’s “How To Create Better Visual Presentations”

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Learn more about all things effective slide design here.  In the meantime, like NPR’s experts, Medina also suggests we ditch PowerPoint.  He says, “Toss your PowerPoint presentations. It’s text-based (nearly 40 words per slide), with six hierarchical levels of chapters and subheads—all words. Professionals everywhere need to know about the incredible inefficiency of text-based information and the incredible effects of images. Burn your current PowerPoint presentations” (Source).

What are additional reasons why presenters should ditch those PowerPoint slides?

Design Inspiration

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When I begin creating a new deck of slides for my class, I first focus on storyboarding my content in the “Presenter’s Notes” section of Keynote.  After I decide how I’m going to organize my information, I begin the presentation design process.

It has been a few months since I’ve created a new deck of slides, so I wanted to ditch the old favorite layout, colors, and font to design something brand new and beautiful.  To do this, I turn to a folder on my computer and a Pinterest board called “Design.”  Using these two mediums, I collect design ideas – colors I like, web design that speaks to me, text on a shape that looks good, for example.  Today, as I’m still thinking about the design for this upcoming slideshow, I want to share some of my favorite design inspiration with you:

First, I am loving the simple packaging of Forever 21’s new makeup line:

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Second, I love the new Lilly Pulitzer website.  With its moving elements and interconnected pieces on the home page, Lilly Pulitzer takes the prize as the first website I’ve ever seen that keeps me coming back not only for the clothing but also to see the tiny tweaks and updates in design.  For example, a few months ago, I “Pinned” this shot on my “Design” Pinterest board because of the combination of type and image.

Third, I’ve been really into a two simple, kitchen-inspired color palettes from Design Seeds:

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Last, but not least, I am loving these tips on how to mix and match fonts.

How do you find and then keep track of your design inspiration?