3 Reasons Why You Need to Stop Using PowerPoint, Now!
If you’re a regular user of PowerPoint, your initial reactions to my ‘provocative’ headline may include variations of:
- Hey Eamonn, don’t you know there’s more than 30 million folks giving PowerPoint presentations around the globe daily? Are you saying they’re all wrong?
- Anyway, NO blinking chance! That’s how I assemble my speeches!
- What are you trying to do to me? How would I know what I should say next if I can’t see my slides?
- And what’ll I give to people after I’m done? They’ll expect take away notes!
I get it. Since invented in the late 1980s, many, many people giving business presentations have become quite dependent on PowerPoint for these and many other reasons. And it’s easy to see why.
On face value PowerPoint should make life easier as all you have to do is:
- Type in any headlines and body copy you like and think will make sense
- Source some images to make your slides more visually engaging, and optionally
- Insert a few flashy graphics, a video or three and, if you’re a bit of a whizz on things techie, you can even pimp things up with animations or sound effects for more flash, pop and wallop!
So that sounds good, right?
Ah. Actually no! Stop right there.
If you share many fact laden presentations slides, you run the risk of setting your audiences up to forget most of what you say! Here’s why:
Why most PowerPoint slides are destined to be forgotten
# 1 A tendency that may cause your audience to switch off
Here is a certainty. As soon as you fire up a PowerPoint presentation and project it onto a screen, your audience members-like a moth drawn to a flame-will look to this screen and read whatever you have written (since they figure that’s what you’d like them to do).
So that’s good? Well maybe not!
Snag is, your audience members can often read whatever you’ve written a lot quicker than you will say whatever you included in that slide. And if they get the impression that you’re mostly about to repeat what they’ve just read, here’s what may be said in many a brain: “Ah. I know what he/she is going to say. I don’t need to keep listening, I know what comes next.” Oops. You’re just encouraged ‘switch off’ city!
Worse. You likely haven’t helped folks while they were reading your slides either.
Is it fair to say that you probably start to speak to your audiences about what’s on any given slide about the same time they start to read it? Yes? Sure? Probably?
And if that’s true, what do you imagine happens to peoples’ abilities to understand and remember a darn thing if someone is speaking to them (probably using a microphone for extra volume) while they’re reading?
You guessed it. This isn’t going to go well.
News alert. People (men or women) CANNOT multi-task and if they hear you speak while they try to read anything, you can take it to the bank their comprehension, attention and recall levels will take MASSIVE hits.
But there’s more. This sorry tale may get sadder still!
# 2 Competing word problems that can addle your brain
So, not only might you not be off to the flying start you were hoping for…
…There’s a good chance matters could be made far worse if you happen to have succumbed to the one thing most frequently used PowerPoint template pages make it easy to do: i.e. Include as many words as you like on your slides.
And before you know it, you’ve included a plethora of bullet points on every page in your presentation
Isn’t that marvellous? All that fabulous information in one place?
No! Here’s why you must spare a thought for your audience members.
If they’re looking at a slide with many bullet points and it’s not made obvious, how on earth can they decide which of your bullet points they should believe is most important?
Right. They probably won’t bother. And that’s because when faced by many competing points vying for your attention and trying to make sense of it all seems like hard work, the easiest thing for your brain to do is ‘NOTHING’.
And if nothing or next to nothing gets prioritised as folks are brought through slide after slide, no prizes for what can happen to audience recall. Yep! More potential for a deep nose-dive!
And incidentally, this is before I mention in passing the ‘under researched’ effects of word blur – which can happen when you skim read text that feels a bit wordy or hard going. And the upshot can be, from a best case to worse case scenario, far less focus to complete inattention! Oops again!
But. We’re still not done yet on the potential tragic effects of relying on word heavy PowerPoint slides. Here’s another doozy!
# 3 The damaging effects of out of sight, out of mind
Here’s a fun experiment to try in the comfort of your own home, if you have nothing better to do of a wet Thursday evening (or anytime).
Look at a slide deck someone has given you and having read a previous slide and moved on to the next one, allow yourself a good minute to read and think about whatever is on the latest slide in front of you. Now – and without taking any sneaky peeks – grab a blank piece of paper and write down as much as you can remember from the slide that just went beforehand.
What are the chances that you’re struggling just about now to put much down on your blank sheet of paper? I’m going to say HIGH.
Really. Wow. What’s up with that?
How is it possible to finish reading a slide just one minute ago and already struggle to remember what it contained? And this is without having to contend with someone wittering on as you try to read!
Well, the answer is you may be experiencing a version of what University of Notre Dame cognition expert Professor Gabriel Radvansky calls the new doorway effect [Note: you can hear more about his fascinating work in my podcast interview with him a few years ago here].
This is when you enter a new room and all of a sudden you’re more than 3 times more likely to forget stuff in previous/ other rooms – because you can no longer see and connect things no longer in front of you. Sound familiar?
It does for me. In fact, I’m so au fait with this phenomenon I leave 6 pairs of glasses around my house, as I am always forgetting where I left the others!
And the upshot? If your slides are not largely story centric and highly visual, expect recall of previous slides moments after seeing them to be terrible and next to zero many days or weeks later! Ouch.
And the moral of today’s post is this. If you’re using Powerpoint as anything other than a sparing and occasional source of visually arresting and emotive cues that are high on supporting and complementing what you want folks to believe and action and low on written words…
…It’s time to stop and to discover how to win hearts and minds in new ways.
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