I was twenty-four years old when I began my career as an adjunct instructor at two community colleges. One class was at 8 a.m. on a Saturday. I can still remember walking into the classroom and looking into the faces of my students. Every one of them was older than me. No matter. I introduced the course, distributed the syllabus, and held court. Despite the age gap,everything was going great until a week before the first formal speech was due. A male student, over sixty years old said, “Miss, you’ve been telling us how to give a speech and what to do, but I’ve been in the business world more than thirty years. I know that the best way to give a speech is to show slides. I don’t need all your ‘rules.'” Without missing a beat I said, “Sir, a slide show is not a speech!”
Those were pre-PowerPoint days, but if that curmudgeon was in my class today, I’d give him the same answer. Too many speakers rely on PowerPoint slides to avoid having to take center stage and deliver a speech. Think about it: do political candidates show slides when they speak? No; (except for Ross Perot) and why not? Because they want you to be persuaded by them not numbers, graphs and charts and pretty pictures. You should only use PowerPoint when there is data that you cannot share without the clarification of a graphic. Even then, less is more. Maybe a photo, an object or a single pie chart is enough to make your case.
Keep these in mind when “powering up” for a presentation with PowerPoint:
* Do you really need to use it or will a lively presentation by you and other visuals make your case better?
* Limit the number of slides
* Limit the information on each slide
* Skip the razzle-dazzle of special effects
*Proof your slides
Joe Downing and Cecile C. Garmon explain in a Communication Education article “Teaching Students in the Basic Course How to Use Presentational Software” (50-2001,218-219) even in business the heads of some corporations are telling their subordinates to use this technology sparingly. The government has run into problems with PowerPoint, and another article suggests it makes us all dumber.
Too much use of PowerPoint turns a public speech into a slide show. And remember: “that is not a speech!”