by Steve Adubato, PhD

Picture this scenario. Recently Jane attended a board meeting of a volunteer business organization. The purpose of the meeting was to have an academic researcher come in and make an “expert presentation” on the results of a study to determine why downtown business development had stalled and what needed to be done to move forward. Every board member was excited about the topic and anxious to contribute. The group had paid a considerable amount of money to commission the study.

Yet, when the academic presenter walked to the front of the room he immediately turned down the lights and said the following words; “My PowerPoint presentation begins with some statistical information…” Okay, statistics are important, particularly the big numbers that paint a big picture. But as more and more charts, graphs and numbers were introduced in slide after slide, board members became bored. After 25 minutes and dozens of slides, the PowerPoint presentation finally ended.

Later that night, Jane told her husband, who is a banker in town, “The presentation was absolutely terrible. It had such great promise, but it was just so boring.” Ironically, Jane and virtually every other member of the board, told the PowerPoint presenter after he was through, “That was really good. You provided lots of information.” Now, some tough questions.

Q—Why do so many people refuse to tell a poor presenter how they really feel about his or her presentation?

A—It’s hard to be honest. It is similar to what happens at a family wedding or party when Uncle Johnny gets up to sing and he is absolutely terrible. He is off key and forgets a lot of words. While everyone is rolling their eyes and mumbling at their table, as soon as Uncle Johnny finishes they politely applaud and tell him how great he was. Let’s face it, we’re not very honest when it comes to people’s public performances that fall flat. We also think there is some sort of unwritten rule that if we lie to others about their bad public communication, they will in turn lie to us and tell us how great we are—regardless of the truth.

Q—What’s the harm in giving a boring PowerPoint presentation if it includes lots of valuable information?

A—The cost is astronomical. Dave Paradi has written extensively on the subject of PowerPoint. He recently told the Wall Street Journal, “Bad PowerPoint presentations cost companies $252 million a day in wasted time.” Paradi added that this was a conservative estimate. Losing money is only one negative to bad PowerPoint. How about losing people’s attention and the opportunity to motivate and inspire them? What about the fact that bad PowerPoint lowers people’s expectations as to what public communication should and could be. Finally, ask yourself what you do during a deadly PowerPoint presentation? You get distracted, involved in other activities and you turn on your Blackberry. You become disengaged, which in turn has the potential to produce bad decisions that come out of such a meeting. Consider the implications of that.

Q—If so many are so bad at PowerPoint presentations, why do we continue the practice?

A—It’s easier. It’s a huge communication crutch. If someone says they are scared and don’t know how to begin their presentation, all they have to do is read the first slide, which includes the presentation’s title and some other basic information. Then they read slide after slide after slide. It takes no imagination, no passion, and no creativity—just the ability to read. That won’t make you nervous or anxious, it will just kill all the energy in the room and you’ll think; “Wow, am I glad I got through that,” while oblivious to the devastating impact you’ve had on those around you.