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Management: Sliding Away From Slide Decks
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Management: Sliding Away From Slide Decks - Executive Leadership Articles

Management: Sliding Away From Slide Decks

Executive Leadership Articles

Management: Sliding Away From Slide Decks

If you’re old enough to remember the days before PowerPoint, you probably remember how you felt the first time you saw a slide deck presentation, or the first time you created one yourself. “Wow,” you thought. “This is going to change everything.”

You were right. PowerPoint raised the level of everybody’s presentation game with easy-to-use, professional quality graphics and text. The PowerPoint slideshow wasn’t just a digital version of a photographic slideshow; it was an entirely new thing, with transitions, animations, and multimedia capability. Today, it is the standard visual aide in education, religious worship, business, government, and public speaking. Presenters no longer need to bring their own equipment when asked to deliver a speech, lesson, or pitch. A USB jump-drive will do, because it can be assumed that the venue is equipped with projectors, computers, and PowerPoint. For most practical purposes, public speaking today equals PowerPoint.

In some ways, this standardization is a good, powerful thing. Before slideshows were as ubiquitous as they are today, presenters needed to plan for a wide range of variables, including release versions of the software, multiple adaptors for projectors and laptops, and even projector screens. Nowadays, they’re safe enough if they forward a .ppt file via email and bring a copy on a jump-drive just in case. Yet there are tradeoffs, and chances are solid that slide decks have been such an established part of the work in your field for so long that you don’t even consider them tradeoffs. Here, then, are a few reasons to consider something—anything—else for your team’s next presentation.

First, as Marshall McLuhan posited, the medium is the message. Just as you are forced to optimize your presentation for the size of the audience, the length of time you’re given, and the stakes involved, you hopefully optimize it for the format of a slideshow. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, but if you don’t stop to ask yourself if a slideshow is the best possible medium for delivering your content, you’re limiting the possibilities for showing your best face. There’s a reason actors and dancers don’t audition with slide decks: the medium is inappropriate for the message. Similarly, if you aren’t specifically required to use a slide deck, it doesn’t hurt to consider other options first. Not everything is best laid out on twelve slides with five bullets each.

There’s a lot of advice out there for people who want to create super-effective slide decks, advice that helps deliver content in ways that make presentations stand out among the rest. The advice is often quite powerful, but what would make you stand out more than being the only presenter in the crowd who doesn’t use a slide deck at all? Even if you decide to offer your content in a slideshow-like way, some other, professionally appropriate vehicle for delivery can make an impression on your audience. Consider creative (or old-school) methods of showing a slide, one that doesn’t involve double-clicking a desktop icon in order to launch it, and you’re on your way to breaking the mold.

Beyond choosing the best visual aide for your content and standing out among the crowd, an alternate presentation can take advantage of all the things you learned in your college public speaking courses: a visual aid is supposed to assist the speaker, not take all the attention away from the speaker. Slideshows are typically projected so they’re larger than the speaker; they’re shown in dark rooms where they are the most visible element of the presentation; and they’re often built to be attractive to the eye. None of these are conducive to focusing your audience’s attention on you. If your visual aide is getting all the attention, it’s no longer an aide. This is especially true if your slides contain the same content as your speech, in which case you’re just the audio track.

Once you’ve decided on some alternate presentation method, you’re probably still going to have to create a slide deck if that’s what your audience is expecting. A printout should be fine, but pass it around when your non-PowerPoint presentation is complete. If you feel the need to explain why you didn’t show slides (and hopefully you won’t), simply make the case that your content isn’t like everyone else’s content, and it is best presented a different way.

One thing is for sure, whoever you are: you are different from everyone else, whether everyone else is your competition, the other speakers on the agenda, or whoever delivered training last month. Avoiding slide decks forces your audience to evaluate you, and to notice what’s unique about you. This is infinitely better than trying to stand out with better slide backgrounds or cute bullet points, because you’re automatically different without trying to be. Consider letting your audience focus on you, and consider the advantages of sliding away from PowerPoint.


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