Audience engagement is an art, but few have the ability to keep their audience hooked.
It is not only about the point you are making, but also about how you make it. A PowerPoint presentation can be an addition. It can’t be the whole. Most of us tend to forget this fact.
It was one of those typical HR evaluation sessions.
Students from some top B-schools had completed their summer internship with our company and the top brass had assembled in the boardroom to assess their performances during the period, and rate them accordingly.
The interns had been briefed beforehand as regards the do’s and don’ts.
They had been categorically told to keep the number of slides in their presentation to a minimum, and instead focus on being qualitative. There were time constraints of course.
The first few had done their homework well. Pertinent. Pithy. Precise. Perfect. Well…almost.
The management was impressed.
Then came a not-so-comfortable fellow. Here was someone who lacked confidence. And it showed. As such his presentation skills weren’t up to the mark. To make matters worse, he committed a cardinal sin.
In his bid to impress the management he had made his presentation elaborate, in the process digressing from the topic assigned, and completely messing up with facts.
The apparent lack of self-belief meant the explanations he offered during cross-questioning weren’t convincing either. Neither did he have the common sense to accept his mistake (and apologize).
The more he continued to defend himself, the more he succeeded irritating the management.
“Don’t think the person in front of you is an idiot,” retorted the head of the panel.
“Increasing the number of slides and filling it with data collated from the Internet won’t help you much. Have you even bothered to do any research and cross-check facts?”
The intern had no answer.
Neither do millions of those who, in their bid to populate their presentations, forget the basic…that the panel evaluating you is least bothered about your presentation. What they look for is the manner you present it.
Ever since PowerPoint made its debut in 1990 it has increasingly become a necessity. Every individual, and organisation, is ready with a PowerPoint presentation for just about everything.
Nothing bad with that. PowerPoint is an effective medium, no doubt. But only when it is used in a smart way. Excessive usage can be detrimental.
A PowerPoint presentation has Dr Jekyll/Mr Hyde tendencies. If kept pertinent it can be an asset, a useful supplement to the point you want to convey. If fiddled with endlessly it can have a damaging impact to the overall prospects of your presentation.
Truth be told, few manage to make their point. Most presentations are prepared to make an impression, a lot of emphasis given to the look and feel of it, vis-a-vis its content. That’s where the strategy boomerangs, as the idea is flawed from inception.
Long before embarking on a career in the corporate world I was a professional quiz-master. As such I had to prepare PowerPoint presentations (usually between 50–100 slides) on a regular basis, and a few additional slides just in case there was a tie-breaker.
It was more out of necessity than choice.
However, this exercise taught me two things. One, the PowerPoint prepared was for the participants and the audience. Two, I had to stick to the good old-fashioned question cards.
After a certain stage I actually hired someone to not only help me with the presentation but also to operate it so that I don’t get distracted.
More than a decade into my professional career I have retained the habit, albeit with a significant change. These days I restrict the number of slides, even when I have to travel internationally. (Not too proud of my presentation skills to be honest).
In an increasingly impatient world, who has the time and patience to sit through scores of slides?
If you are not able to grab someone’s attention from the very beginning, it means you have failed. A large number of slides won’t solve your problem. Going back to the drawing board will. As the saying goes, if you can explain in one line, things will be fine.
Your presentation per se should be more about your skills and convincing ability than the PowerPoint you have prepared.
Mind you, reading out from your PowerPoint is a cardinal sin. It shows your lack of confidence and underlines the fact that you are under-prepared.
Besides, in such cases the question/answer session that follows is more often than not unconvincing. If you feel you can manage sans a PowerPoint, go ahead.
To cite an example, I clearly remember an instance during a global conference where a former boss of mine was so engrossed in reading out from the PowerPoint that he forgot that the screen was behind him and the microphone in front. Get the drift…
I was interacting with a foreign delegation at the time and the group just couldn’t stop giggling. Seeing that I was they palpably inquired about the reason, and on hearing the same profusely apologized.
It wasn’t their fault. Was it?
Had I been in their place I would also have struggled to control my laughter.
There are also instances where preparing, rather having a PowerPoint ready for every meeting becomes a matter of pride more than anything else. And in his bid to satisfy his ego, a person ends up making a mockery of himself.
Excuse me for giving one more example at this juncture. Another ex-boss wasn’t computer literate. Usually yours truly accompanied him and made the presentation on his behalf.
However, there was this instance when I was told that a presentation wasn’t required, and it would be a group discussion.
Knowing the temperament of my boss, and his fascination with PowerPoint, I was ready with a brief presentation…with all the facts and figures he usually asked for.
On the day of the conference both of us were given the reassurance that a group discussion it will be. However, as ill luck would have it another lady in the panel insisted hers will be a PowerPoint, and that she had prepared accordingly.
My boss panicked. Nah! The lady’s assertion had hurt his ego.
“Get it loaded,” he ordered. I asked the operators to act instantly.
His turn came. The PowerPoint was ready to be used. Only he didn’t know how to operate it.
In his quest to somehow leaf through the PowerPoint he was fumbling with his lines. Worse still, he had covered the dais with his hands and didn’t even bother to look at me.
I had an operator as well as a laser pointer as back-up options. Only if there had been some eye contact…
The PowerPoint mess-up was the topic of discussion and sarcastic pleasure, in no particular order, in the after party. Thankfully, my boss had left soon after he was done.
Audience engagement is an art. It is not only about the point you are making, but also about how you make it. Almost all of us tend to forget this basic fact.
In a conference – be it global, national, local or glocal – probably one out of every 100 speakers has that ability to keep his/her listeners hooked.
The rest are mechanical, over-dependent on the PowerPoint and just go through the motions, mostly ensuring ennui.
A few do ensure laughter, albeit unintentionally – through their speech style, body language, pronunciation, mannerisms and many fumbles.
On some occasions the PowerPoint per se is effective. However, the same is not true about the presenter. This brings me back to the point am trying to make all this while.
A PowerPoint presentation can be an addition. It can’t be the whole.
The more dependent you get, the more you scupper your chances of making an impression.
A firm believer in the adage ‘variety is the spice of life’, New Delhi-based Bikash Mohapatra has been a human resource manager, a communication specialist, a strategist, a media professional and a researcher/writer at various stages of his career, acquiring a new set of skills with every additional responsibility.
Outside of work he is an avid traveler, with an innate desire to learn about various people, places and cultures. It is this ‘travel education’, coupled with varied ‘professional experience’ that manifest into thoughts and take the shape of detailed and elaborate narratives.