Last week I spent two days working with executives at a venture capital firm. They had asked for some presentation training because they realize that how you get a message across can be as important as the actual message.
When I work with people on their presentation skills I introduce some concepts that can be difficult to accept, particularly in a financial field. For example, several distinguished university researchers have found that when you put words on a screen and then read them, your audience is less likely to retain or understand the information. This is known as Cognitive Load Theory, although to the layman it is obviously counter-intuitive.
One of my clients last week challenged me on that point. He cited his experience in Silicon Valley during the dot-com boom. Back then, he said, people came looking for money with thick multi-page business plans full of faulty assumptions. Today, he said, he didn’t have time to wade through such business plans. He felt that PowerPoint condensed some of that information.
I agreed but suggested he take it one step further with a more visual approach to the presentation and fewer slides.
He was surprised when I pointed out that the information on a 50-slide PowerPoint could be presented on both sides of two standard sheets of paper. I suggested that there should be a difference between what we put on a screen and what we leave behind as a handout. In fact, Toyota has banned PowerPoint, not because they don’t like it but as a way to save money by reducing the cost of printer paper.
Despite my evidence, the client defended PowerPoint, saying it was part of his company’s “corporate culture”. He may be right. But more and more of North America’s top companies are changing from that culture to save money and make their communications more effective.
When we got into a practice session, though, the real reason my client was stuck on PowerPoint became obvious. He was using the bullet points on the screen as his notes.
I showed him a better way to make notes for his presentation, introduced a more graphic, visual approach to his PowerPoint and all of a sudden the corporate culture changed.