10.11.2017 13:02 by Front Desk

PowerPoint Presentations are simply a tedious form of documentation

Reinhard F. Leiter, executive coach at the HR and management consultancy, SELECTEAM  

Every day thousands of employees throughout the world produce an estimated 500 million presentations. Sometimes the aim is to show the development of products and businesses, on other occasions to highlight the benefits of a product, service or process. In most cases the labour pains of a PowerPoint presentation are obvious. Drawn up under time pressure; uninspiring and copied and pasted from existing, often dated slides; unstructured; and without a clear message ‒ they are a nightmare for their audience. And the worst thing is that the creators of the presentation are convinced that their presentation is state-of-the-art and professional.


Accompanied reading – not an exciting presentation

The result ‒ the presentation is invariably pure documentation and of no benefit whatsoever. Such presentations – accompanied reading rather than exciting speeches – simply generate boredom. Instead of listening attentively, the listener switches off and drifts into a sleep-like state which they only emerge from when the closing remarks are being made. Without a clear message, without an exciting story and dramaturgy, most presentations are ineffective.



Ineffective PowerPoint presentations stop the transformation process 

With the arrival of the digital age, companies are undergoing the greatest transformation processes ever. Communication is the medium for these processes. A lively, convincing presentation can result in the successful implementation of the changes necessary in a company. An ineffective presentation can hinder or even thwart these change processes completely.

Communication is therefore a prerequisite for success in the digital age. Innovations which have been developed over months or years with the support of management consultants often end up in tedious PowerPoint presentations.  And to make matters worse, thousands of employees often have to sit through these presentations where the slides are simply just read out. Thus, the PowerPoint presentation becomes nothing more than accompanied reading.


Listeners can follow for a maximum of 10 minutes

A listener’s attention span is generally limited to a maximum of ten minutes and yet such basic principles are completely ignored. The listener then needs either a break or a new impulse – a short video for example. Furthermore, it is impossible to listen and read slides at the same time.

In all presentations what ultimately matters is not what the speaker wants to convey, but what the listener actually takes away. If the listener understands what they hear and remembers this later, and if what they have heard changes their way of thinking and acting, then the presentation was a great success.

Rather than using concrete examples and pictures, many speakers hide behind linguistic monstrosities or use abstract terminology such as justice or optimal customer retention.


What speakers could do better

If, however, speakers were to use concrete examples from daily business, their goal would be more transparent and the audience would remember everything more easily. A Formula-1 car, a bicycle, an apple are, for example, objects which can be perceived with the senses, they are concrete.

Trust – a key component for a message to be accepted – can only be gained if the speaker places the message in a familiar context, whilst using unexpected, surprising pictures and examples.

The emotions which the speaker triggers are also crucial. Nothing creates a more lasting impression and is a better catalyst for action than an emotional, captivating story. Only when something is emotionally anchored, does it stick in our memory. The benefits and advantages for the participants must therefore be clearly outlined. Simplicity thus means being able to omit the unnecessary, so that the necessary speaks for itself.


Just 7% of what we hear sticks

Because they are too concerned with the content of their presentation, many speakers overlook a crucial detail ‒ just 7% of the content will be remembered by the listener. In contrast, our body language conveys 55% of the message and our voice accounts for 38%. Our body language and how we stand, move, breathe and express ourselves have a decisive impact on the success of a presentation.


A concrete example: John F. Kennedy

In his inaugural address in 1961 President John F. Kennedy declared that an American would land on the moon within a decade. This idea stuck. The new, young President’s vision motivated and excited millions of Americans. The message reached them on an emotional level. At the time America was engaged in the Cold War. Several years previously the Russians had launched the Sputnik rocket into space. They were ahead of the Americans. This humiliated the “land of opportunity”. For the US economy John F. Kennedy’s statement meant: sell dreams, not products. This idea was also totally unexpected.  As such, it attracted a great deal of attention. And it is a long way to the moon. The actual distance from the earth to the moon is 384,000 km ‒ the equivalent of eight rotations of the earth. Everyone could picture the global interest and the recognition this plan would generate if it were successful.

Listeners do not only want to hear about facts and products. They want stories which they can relate to. And, as already mentioned, their attention span is limited. A presentation should not last longer than twelve minutes. Three key points are therefore enough, three to five slides with maximum six words on each suffice.  What counts is the power of the future vision and the ability to communicate this convincingly.


About the author: Reinhard F. Leiter is an Executive Coach at SELECTEAM and an expert on organisational learning and HR. Before SELECTEAM he previously worked for the Bayer Group and Allianz.

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