Three Ways PowerPoint Makes You a Lousy Public Speaker

  1. A Screen is Not a Shield. Many people like PowerPoint because it draws attention away from them, shielding them from scrutiny. If you don’t want the attention, then don’t speak in public. A good presenter is dynamic and engages the audience. That means making eye contact and showing some passion for the topic. The whole idea of a speech (instead of a written report) is to make an emotional connection with people. A lousy public speaker is just a PowerPoint sound track.
  2. Bullets Kill People. Conventional wisdom holds that if you put up bullet points and then read them out loud people will remember them. In fact the opposite happens. Studies going back more than 10 years have found that, if words on a screen (or blackboard) are the same as words being spoken, retention will drop dramatically because the eye and the ear fight to process the information. Professor John Sweller of the University of New South Wales (among others) has done extensive research on the topic. Save your presentation, kill the bullets.
  3. PowerPoint is Not a Swiss Army Knife. Using PowerPoint as your notes and as a handout document as well as a visual aid to your speech means you are doing three things wrong. If you have to look at the screen to know what to say you lose credibility. A four page brochure-style handout will contain as much information as most 20-slide decks. It’s easier to read and it saves paper. Words on a screen are not a visual aid. Try using only pictures or diagrams and put your notes on index cards. That allows you the flexibility to linger on a slide or to move on quickly and the audience will still keep its primary focus on you. If your PowerPoint dominates, you’ll be a lousy public speaker.
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