I don’t know if you’ve thought about this, but when the Zombie Apocalypse hits, PowerPoint will be pretty much useless. Okay, maybe you haven’t thought about it. I know I didn’t until a recent speaking experience made me think about how we use PowerPoint, particularly in remote presentations, webinars and the like.
Last month, I spoke at the Remote Work Summit, an international gathering in San Marcos la Laguna, Guatemala. As you can see, it was a unique environment for a business presentation: perched on the edge of a cliff, outdoors, and oddly enough no projector or visual aids. It had been a long time since I gave an important talk without visuals.
It forced me to re-examine the presentations I give, and the role PowerPoint (or Prezi or Keynote or Haiku Deck) plays in how we communicate our messages. This is especially true in webinars, virtual meetings and situations where people aren’t in the same room we are.
So what does this have to do with zombies and the end of civilization as we know it? Odds are when that time comes there won’t be a lot of technology working. Projectors will be scarce and wifi is going to be spotty at best. The unique circumstances for this presentation forced me to ask an important question that all presenters should answer for themselves: If I didn’t have the aid (some would say crutch) of visuals and virtual presentation tools, would I still be able to tell my message and engage my audience?
This is not an anti-PowerPoint screed. It’s a great tool when used properly, and there were several times during the presentation that I really wished I had the advantage of showing the visual so everyone was focused on the same data at the same time, or were sharing a common visual. It would be even more difficult if the audience wasn’t all present in the same location. It was hard enough with the beautiful scenery to distract them, imagine if they were on a conference call with email, Instant Messages and computer solitaire calling for their attention.
Here’s a thought experiment. Imagine a world where Slack, Skype, WebEx, PowerPoint and GoToWhatever suddenly disappeared. What would you have to do to keep the attention of your audience (in this experiment, for some hellish reason, conference calls work just fine.)
Here’s what you’d be forced to do. It’s what you should be doing anyway (particularly in a virtual environment) but technology has allowed us to get sloppy.
Keep your presentation short and focused.
Your audience doesn’t have a lot of time. After all, they’re on the lookout for rampaging zombies. Before you speak, answer these two questions: 1) Can you define your key point or recommendation in a single sentence? and 2) Can you explain to the audience in simple terms why what you’re about to tell them matters to them? If you can’t, you shouldn’t be presenting yet.
Don’t use data as a bludgeon. Save that for the zombies.
One of the dangers in PowerPoint is that you have data, and you’re tempted to share it. All of it. Every single chart and data point. When the audience can’t see what you’re talking about, they lose interest (or simply glaze over) much earlier. If you were forced to (remember, the Undead are coming) what is the one or two most compelling, important points you have to support your point?
Build your presentation without visual aids.
Again, I’m not saying don’t use these tools if they are still available to you. The point here is to imagine creating the simplest, most compelling message you can, and then look to how you can reinforce and support your message virtually. When we use PowerPoint and other template-based tools to plan our presentations, they tend to follow certain unfortunate patterns dictated by the tool and the templates, not the desired end goal.
Check often for understanding as you go, rather than hold questions until the end.
If your Humanity Preservation Plan has three steps, you probably want to make sure people really understand step one before moving on to step two. Typically, online presenters dump all three steps on their audience without interruption, then ask for questions at the end of their presentation, assuming there’s still time. Those left alive will usually ask “can you repeat step one?”
I’m not saying you’ll suddenly find yourself in the Central American jungle without a projector and screen, or even that rampaging hordes of soulless corpses are around the corner (unless you’re presenting at the annual sales meeting). But imagine presenting as if that WAS the case. How would that change how you communicate with your remote team?
If you’d like for you and your team to improve your presentation skills, we offer a great on demand course, Presenting Online.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager
Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in Management-Issues.com.
Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership.