Sir, that is *not* a speech!

 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!”


1 Response to “Sir, that is *not* a speech!”

  1. May 27, 2010 at 9:38 am

    I agree with your approach. Another point worth mentioning is that when you have too much of an automated presentation with PowerPoint, you can’t always easily adjust your delivery, if there’s a question.
    Being able to keep the speech flowing, if there’s a technical glitch is another reason to consider minimizing the number of slides or other visual aides. It’s not what you’re saying and showing but how your message is being consumed. Just like television advertising, when you have a good mix of the visual and a strong audio approach, you usually can create more impact and dynamics.

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