Use Your Hands!
“Ladies and gentlemen, the next hour will be PowerPoint free.” Most of my presentations lasting an hour or less have begun that way for over a decade. I do this to set clear expectations and create context. It never occurred to me that, one day, this would become an applause line. But it has.
A great keynote is not just a speech, it’s a piece of theatre. Most of the truly sensational, no wait, make that all the truly sensational speakers I know are talented storytellers. Amazing storytellers. Even the colleagues I refer to as “the great explainers” handle specific, statistical content through anecdotal methods as well as a well-placed graph or diagram. As one of my own keynotes is titled, “There’s No Business BUT Show Business,” and public speaking certainly exemplifies this.
Among the first things one learns in first-year theatre training is that a director should avoid “split-focus” when bringing a scene to life. Yet, this is exactly what many are doing when entering a competition with PowerPoint for attention and focus. The addiction and overuse of slides to guide a speaker’s presentation in our field is not only dumbing down the performance of the average speaker, it’s also dumbing down our audiences. The moment a typical slide presentation is incorporated it sends a subliminal message to participants that says, “Relax, you don’t have to completely engage because my PowerPoint is going to do half the work for both of us. I don’t need to really work so hard and you don’t need to listen so hard.”
What great storyteller would implore listeners to stare at the scenery when attempting to create a collective-consciousness? Singers are aware that a bare stage and a pin-spot are magnificent tools to bring an audience in and force it to listen closer, so why don’t speakers? Practically all of us have a mother or uncle that can mesmerize a room at family gatherings using only their voice and gesticulation. And they’re not paid thousands of dollars to do it, nor do they belong to speaking associations. And when you think of it, isn’t grabbing attention at a community gathering to entertain or inform all any of us are really doing as professional speakers?
Let’s be clear; I know that it’s long been trendy to bag on PowerPoint (especially by folks like myself who find themselves clumsy using it in the first place) and, to be fair, there are certainly instances when slides are a necessity rather than an enhancement. Presenting graphs, statistics or specific brand-messaging require visual back-up that just couldn’t be conveyed as well with interpretive dance. Well…in most cases anyway.
When developing content for other organizations or helping someone prepare for an important talk, presentation or “show”, I have a strict “Ten-Slide-Rule”. I ask, “Do you really need more than ten slides?” My professional opinion is that if more than ten separate slides must be utilized it means your message may have morphed into nothing more than an information dump. Pull back.
I realize that, for some, the idea of appearing onstage sans a slide show will feel naked. Also, as someone who made a living for years by making silly voices and sound effects with my mouth, this may come easier to me than most. To that I say; if all else fails while telling a story you can always USE YOUR HANDS! Trust me, it works.
Kevin Bugielski is the Marketing Manager for Victory Lap, a purpose-driven startup changing the sales game. Avid Snapchatter, SoulCycle lover, newfound runner, but ultimately, a foodie.