How to Avoid Killing Your Audience with PowerPoint

Create an effective and engaging presentation.

Jeb Blount
October 26, 2010

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In this episode we address death by PowerPoint. A listener named Mario wrote to ask for tips on giving PowerPoint presentations. He writes:

I would like to have some quick and dirty tips for better presentations using PowerPoint like: How not to lose the focus on the audience? How to keep the focus on the subject? And how to use the slides to complement the presentation rather than the other way around? I want to give presentations without putting my audience to sleep.

This is a great question. Anyone (which is probably most of us) who has been slowly, and painfully put to death by a terrible PowerPoint presentation, will attest that it is a terrible way to go. After sitting through many of these excruciating presentations it is clear to me that presenters of all stripes need to learn how to effectively use PowerPoint slides to support their core message.

The effective use of presentation tools like PowerPoint can be a powerful addition to your sales arsenal. I was an early adopter of PowerPoint when it first emerged as a technology. I can clearly remember how easy it was to wow my prospects when using it. In the early days the PowerPoint slides themselves became a real competitive edge. In those days you could put anything on a slide and the audience was mesmerized. Then everyone else jumped on the band wagon. The wow factor was gone and death by PowerPoint became a cliché.

Today supporting your message with PowerPoint slides is an expected part of any presentation. In the early days, we hauled around huge, expensive projectors. Today most prospects ask if we will need them to provide the projector because they expect us to give a presentation. In many cases there is no need for a projector at all because we are doing the presentation on Go To Meeting.

The important thing to understand is that there is an expectation that you will support your presentation with PowerPoint. The critical word here is support. The minimum requirement is that you have something visual that your prospects and customers can see. However, unlike the early days where having a great PowerPoint presentation gave you a competitive edge, in today’s environment your PowerPoint presentation must remain in the background. If your slides become the focal point you will lose your audience. Only your message and connection with your audience will give you a true competitive edge. Unfortunately, many presenters don’t understand this.

Think about your presentation and your PowerPoint slides like a train and its tracks. The train is the most important part of the pair. The train has power, it moves people and things, it goes places. The tracks simply provide the support and help guide the train in the right direction. In any presentation you are the train and your PowerPoint slides are the tracks.