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From the desk of Steve Lowell, Master Speaker and Mentor to those who speak in public.

Preparing For a Powerful Delivery

Use PowerPoint Sparingly

When I was preparing for the ten-minute talk I mentioned throughout the last point, I created a deck of slides and spent several hours getting them just the way I wanted them.

Each time I rehearsed my talk, I either ran the slides through in my head or had them projected on a wall while I rehearsed. During the entire preparation process, I felt there was something not quite right about my presentation, but I couldn’t really put my finger on what it was.

I felt completely prepared for my talk, but there was still something bothering me, even as I sat in the car on the way to the event. I asked myself several mental questions, including, “Have I missed any important points?” “Does the presentation flow the way I want it to?” “Is everything in the best possible order?” and, “Are my PowerPoint slides properly prepared?” The answer to all of these questions was “yes,” so what was bothering me?

Then, a question popped into my head that I had not yet asked myself, “Do I really need those PowerPoint slides at all?”

I considered that for a moment and visualized how the presentation would flow without the slides, and a weight was lifted from my mind. That was it! I didn’t really need those slides to accomplish my objectives for this presentation. I delivered the presentation with no slides, and it went as beautifully as it could have gone. PowerPoint slides wouldn’t have helped my presentation, and most likely would have hindered it.

One might think it was a waste of time preparing those slides. Not at all, the preparation time on the slides helped me galvanize the material in my mind, even though I didn’t use those slides. I knew my material so well, I didn’t need those slides to help me present it, but I did need them to help me prepare.

Something similar happened in the summer of 2010 when I was preparing a mission-critical presentation for my members at “Your Stage,” my business education and networking group. I was preparing for a one-hour sales presentation to increase membership and I’d prepared 140 PowerPoint slides.

I set up the projector, and rehearsed my presentation hundreds of times, changing slides and reordering things as I went along. I spent hundreds of hours on those slides and in rehearsal and preparation.

Two days before the presentation, I went through every slide and asked myself, “Is this slide critical to the presentation?” If the slide was not absolutely pivotal in making the point I was trying to make, I deleted it from the deck. I narrowed 140 slides down to 10 critical ones. 10 slides that were absolutely mandatory to make my point the way I needed it to be made. The end result was that I knew my material so well I didn’t even need to look at the slides when they came on the screen, and I was free to adlib if the mood struck me, or if I felt I had to change course for my audience’s sake.

The presentation went exactly as I’d envisioned it, and my mission was accomplished with only ten awesome slides.

PowerPoint slides can be a powerful addition to your presentation, but they also bind you to a specific order of events, limiting your freedom to take the presentation into a new direction if you choose, or if required.

So, what’s the lesson? When preparing your next presentation, ask yourself this question, “Is this slide critical to the presentation?” If the slide isn’t critical, remove it. PowerPoint slides are meant to enhance your presentation, don’t let them detract from it.

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