~~ Featured in the Public Speaking and Presentation Skills Blog Carnival — July 2008 Edition at Overnight Sensation ~~
There are a number of ways that written materials can support and enhance an oral presentation.
I do a lot of public speaking, teaching, and training. I utilize PowerPoint slides extensively.
I also prepare written materials which I distribute to participants to take with them which serve as a reference tool so that when they have a question later, they can use those materials to refresh their recollection and clear up any confusion they may have. I make it a practice to include a cover and table of contents, as well as appropriate authoritative citations, so that the packet will be “user-friendly” and, thus, have an increased chance of being added to the participant’s library. I generally include a printed copy of my PowerPoint show, as well.
I believe that communicating information in three differing formats is the best way to assure comprehension and retention. The PowerPoint presentation serves primarily as an outline containing only key words, terms, and concepts. The written materials are extremely detailed, of course. And depending upon the topic, my speech may contain a lot of examples and illustrations that are not included in either of the written formats, along with some personal recollections.
Whether or not you should utilize such tools in your presentation depends upon a number of factors.
First of all, you must consider the subject matter, of course. What type of presentation are you making? Does the topic lend itself to the use of visual aids such as a PowerPoint show? Will such tools enhance or detract from the main points you are communicating? Will text, graphics and/or music assist your audience in not only understanding your presentation, but also in recollecting the main points over time? Will such displays “pound home” the message or can it be delivered more effectively with just the inflection, dynamics, tenor and tone of your spoken words?
Once you have decided that you want to utilize a PowerPoint presentation as you speak, there are some things you can do to maximize its effectiveness. Most importantly, bear in mind that a slide show or other graphical display should never be a script (although it can effectively serve as an outline, as explained below). I have suffered through too many interminably long presentations where the speaker thought that every salient point should be included in the PowerPoint show and, as if that weren’t bad enough, decided to read the content of the slides to the audience. Sadly, the information being imparted on most of those occasions was of interest to me, but the speaker could not hold my attention once he/she decided to stay “on script” rather than speak contemporaneously.
A PowerPoint show or other graphic presentation should be used solely to augment and clarify your oral commentary, but should never overtake or overshadow it. This is one area where the old adage “less is more” is applicable.
Note that I said bullet points. Not lengthy, rambling paragraphs of text, but, rather, short, concise synopses that the audience can jot down if they’d like. Bullet points can also be read quickly by the audience as you are speaking without deflecting attention from what you are saying. There is nothing worse than looking out into the faces of your audience to discover that they are no longer listening to you because they are focused completely on reading all of the verbiage set forth on the slides you are projecting.
I use custom animation so that I can dictate when specific key words, terms or phrases appear on the screen. For instance, I find that the audience remains engaged if you pepper your presentation with questions. Ask participants if they know the answer to a particular question and open the floor for discussion and questions. When you are ready to conclude the discussion and move on, you can announce, “Here’s the answer” or “Look at how things turned out,” at the moment that the relevant information is projected. This is particularly effective if you ask your audience to guess numbers, percentages or the outcome of hypothetical scenarios. It is fun to hear the gasps when the group is surprised by the correct or actual answer, leading to further enthusiastic discourse and a memorable presentation.
By organizing your PowerPoint slide show, you will find that you have organized your discussion. This is a great way to stay on track. Make sure that you include each and every important point you want to make during your presentation as a bullet or outline point. That way, when you glance at the slides as you are speaking, your memory will be jogged and you will be sure not only to mention those key points, but also elaborate upon them.
Finally, as to the aesthetics of the PowerPoint show, let your topic and audience guide your selections. If you are talking about a very serious, thought-provoking subject, the colors and graphics that you select will probably be different than those appropriate to a more light-hearted or fun conversation. The possibilities are limitless, bounded only by the constraints of your imagination.