3 Rules of PowerPoint Nirvana

PowerPoint makes most speakers worse. Let’s talk about how you use PowerPoint to make you better. All it takes is 3 simple rules.

The rules have nothing to do with fonts, point sizes, number of slides, number of words, colors, animations, or any of the typical advice you’ll see on most of the web.

PowerPoint Nirvana is an escape from all that.

Many eastern religions believe in reincarnation–that the soul is reborn into different mortal forms. Each form is subject to the suffering of this mortal existence, and the soul seeks to improve on this drudgery in each incarnation until is can finally escape into a blissful state of “nirvana.”

Apparently Microsoft believes in a different version of incarnation–that all presentations must be reborn into the SAME form: title, bulleted lists, and clip art. I don’t believe in that type of incarnation, but I do believe each soul in the audience suffers from the drudgery and seeks to escape.

We’ve all experienced the suffering in the audience from one of those incarnations of a PowerPoint presentation.  Click here for any number of my previous anti-PowerPoint rants.

Today let’s do it right. What would PowerPoint Nirvana look like?

Rule #1: No slides for inspiration

Microsoft_PowerPoint_2013_logo.svgI cannot count the number of times I see people start developing a presentation or speech by creating PowerPoint or Keynote slides without ever stopping to ask themselves if it’s even necessary.

If you’re your speech development routine begins with you sitting in front of PowerPoint or Keynote software — STOP IT!

More often than not, these people are spending a lot of time making slides that are completely unnecessary. Not only are they often unnecessary, they are often counter-productive.

Case in point: INFORMATION versus INSPIRATION.

Slides are sometimes helpful for INFORMATION. Slides are usually counter productive for INSPIRATION.

Emotion = Inspiration

If you are telling a story, you don’t need slides. Stories are by their nature, emotional, imaginative, and inspirational. When you show slides (especially words) during a story, you steal energy from the audience’s imagination and thereby steal emotional impact from the story.

If you know what you are doing, visuals can create emotion in some circumstances (think movie theater and drama), but you have to know what you are doing. If you’re not sure you know what you’re doing, you don’t, and you shouldn’t do it. For the vast majority of presenters, stories will be more powerful without the slides.

Professional motivational speakers get paid $5,000 to $50,000 for an hour long keynote. Did you ever notice that they tell lots of stories? Did you ever notice that you get emotionally invested in the stories? Did you ever notice that they almost never use slides?

Persuasion = Inspiration

Likewise, most successful attempts at persuasion are inspirational. Notice I said “most successful attempts,” not “most attempts.”

Don’t think of persuasion as an informational activity. Think of it as an inspirational one. You don’t information overload someone into agreeing with you, you inspiration overload them into it.

Persuasion, by it’s very nature must be personalized to the listener. When you show something on a PowerPoint slide, it’s much, much harder to be personal.

For example, if I’m selling dog treats and show a picture of my dog (or anyone else’s dog) on a power point slide, I just depersonalized my sales pitch. A picture of my dog can prime you to imagine your own dog, buy if I don’t make deliberate efforts to take you through that leap, the image of my dog may be counterproductive.

If I want to convince you to buy something for YOUR dog, I want you to imagine YOUR dog, not mine. The most successful persuasion doesn’t happen on pre-prepared slides–it happens in the listener’s head.

Almost anything I put on a slide is less personal than what you can imagine in your mind. Therefore, if your’re trying to persuade (aka: inspire), keep it in the listener’s head.

Hypotheticals = Inspiration

Similarly, any time you are asking the listener to think hypothetically, they will be inspired more by their own imagination than any literal or verbal depiction you can show on PowerPoint.

Ask them to imagine — no slide necessary.

Ask them to remember — no slide necessary.

Ask them to dream — no slide necessary.

Ask them to set goals — no slide necessary.

Ask for optimism — no slide necessary.

You get the idea. If it’s hypothetical, not literal, or hasn’t happened yet, imagination will be more positive, more inspirational, and more effective than anything you can put on a slide.

Information versus Inspiration

informationIn other words, make FEWER slides. You don’t need them for INSPIRATION (emotion, persuasion, motivation, imagination, hypotheticals, etc). You really only need them for INFORMATION.

But let me clarify–usually, what you think of as INFORMATION, I think of as INSPIRATION.

Pretty much all effective use of slides falls into one of 2 categories:

  1. The visual reinforces the verbal message.
  2. The visual clarifies the verbal message.

We’ll get to clarification later. For now, let’s stick with reinforcement. Ask yourself one simple question about the INFORMATION you want to put on the PowerPoint slide:

Do you expect the listener to remember the information?

If the answer is YES–you do expect the audience to remember it–then you have yourself some bonafide, authentic, honest-to-goodness, good old-fashioned  INFORMATION.

If the answer is NO–you don’t care if they remember it later–then you really aren’t trying to give the listener INFORMATION. If you don’t expect them to remember it, you’re really just using information to INSPIRE or persuade them.

If your objective is to INPSPIRE action or emotion more than to convey knowledge, then you really don’t need the slide–because of rule number one:

Rule #1: No slides for inspiration

PowerPoint Nirvana

Follow rule number one and you’ve already saved yourself tons of time preparing unnecessary slides.

Not only that, but you’re probably making yourself more effective at the same time by taking the inspiration off the screen and leaving it in the listener’s imagination, where it belongs.

Our first PowerPoint re-incarnation is done. Until next week, we’re one rule closer to true PowerPoint Nirvana.

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