Of course images can enhance the audience’s understanding of a presentation. Old-fashioned acetates did the job just as well as the modern laptop and projector showing PowerPoint.
In fact, many would argue that they were often better; generally brighter and more detailed. Others would argue for a sophisticated look, which they feel can be generated by PowerPoint.
Many people need to use some kind of visuals, eg IT specialists, architects, designers, scientists, photographers, engineers, astrophysicists.
Should the slides be the speech?
The problem comes when the slides are allowed to be the speech. You are what the audience should be concentrating on. The slides are simply there to help you illustrate your points. That’s all. If your point is made on the slide, then be quiet as you allow your audience time to absorb it. Use whatever technology helps you present your material the best.
Wouldn’t it be a mistake to let slides dominate you? Wouldn’t it be better to keep them visual, interesting and relevant. And not use them at all when there’s no need?
Al Gore: A consummate presenter
Observe Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth to see how visuals can genuinely enhance a presentation. Then ask yourself this question: Would Al Gore still be a really good speaker if his slides didn’t work? I think so! He’s one of the very few presenters I’ve ever seen who can use slides to his advantage. And that’s because he doesn’t really need them.
Truly competent and well-prepared speakers are those who know they can deliver their speech if the power supply fails to work.
If you want to show images, then find effective ones. There are some wonderfully simple yet effective images on this blog for example: http://www.informationisbeautiful.net
If you want to think how to display information visually and powerfully, visit www.edwardtufte.com and look at his booklist. The point it this: we can take in and interpret images very quickly. This is why Mind Maps are such powerful tools for many presenters.
But please don’t take my word for it!! Investigate and make your own choices.
It’s all about making a clear choice
When people make firm choices about how they are going to put together a speech and what they want to show on an overhead, I’m happy. They’ve made a conscious decision, based on their understanding of the facts:
- What they are talking about
- To whom they are talking
- Where / How they are talking to their audience
What I spend my time fighting against is the ‘We have to do it this way, it’s the industry standard’.
My answer is:
“Is it better to be indistinguishable from every one else, or be able to make original points in a well-chosen manner?”
Think about what you would enjoy experiencing were you to be in the audience. Do you want more of the same, or someone who is going to talk to you, rather than at their own screen?
Unfortunately, when people use slides online, they tend to stay with PowerPoint all the way through their presentation, which means they end up as a little oblong at the side of the screen. And they stay there. I have sympathy for them, because PowerPoint is not designed to dip in and out of and, if you do so, there are major glitches. However, it makes it extremely boring for your audience, especially if they get stuck on a slide of dull bullet points, for example.
If this is the case for you, try to find ways round it: spend time making your slides interesting visually – use infographics and so on – and try to come out of the slides and talk to your online audience when you can. You can always share individual slides without using PowerPoint.
Being a ‘professional’ speaker
One final thought. My clients sometimes say to me “I have to use slides/PowerPoint because otherwise I will not be thought of as being professional.”
I can only speak from my own experience here. I have never judged a speaker’s professionalism by their use or choice of slides. Professionalism isn’t about knowing how to make slides do backflips on a screen, it’s about speaking to a group of human beings in an intelligent, accessible and interesting way so that they leave your talk inspired or reassured or excited.
There will always be people arguing to use PowerPoint or whatever the latest craze is for keeping our attention on the screen rather than on the speaker.
Choose to use slides if you believe they help your audience understand what you are trying to say. Don’t use them in PowerPoint form or otherwise if it’s because that’s what you’re used to, because it’s the fashion, because other people use them or because they are simply an aid memoir for you.
These are not good enough reasons.
Photo: Al Gore in An Inconvenient Truth (2006)