by Steve Adubato, PhD

There is a great Dilbert cartoon in which he is doing a PowerPoint presentation. He opens by saying, “This next transparency is an incomprehensible jumble of complexity and undefined acronyms.” He segues into, “You might wonder why I am going to show it to you since the only possible result is to lower your opinion of my communication skills.” He concludes by saying, “Frankly, it’s because I like making complex pictures more than I like you.”

Here we go with PowerPoint again. I’m not against using technology when communicating. It’s just that too many professionals continue to confuse technology with the message. The message is NOT in the PowerPoint. The message is in YOU! Technology can never replace human contact and communication.

Picture this scenario--A salesman has the opportunity to present to a key decision-maker who is pressed for time. The first thing the salesman does is turn out the lights and turn on his laptop, which contains his very glitzy PowerPoint presentation. The decision-maker is immediately turned off, but remains polite. After the eighth or ninth slide, he says, “Joe, I have a really busy morning. Do me a favor and just tell me in your own words why this idea is going to work for my organization?” Amazingly, the salesman says, “I promise I’ll get to that in a little bit, Bob, if you’ll just let me finish my presentation.” The deal was dead at that moment, but what is amazing is that the salesman didn’t have a clue what was happening and why.

Q—Why are so many professionals so attached to PowerPoint?

A—It’s easy. All the information is right there. Most people simply read or review what is on the slide. This approach requires no imagination, no creativity, just the ability to read. Further, many people incorrectly believe their audience is impressed by it. Yet just because you are going high-tech doesn’t mean you’re message will get across. Bells and whistles are no substitute for solid business communication with a clear and compelling message.

Q—Are you saying PowerPoint is ineffective in all circumstances?

A—No. It’s just not nearly as effective as we think and most people who use it either overuse it or use it incorrectly. They jam way too much information on each slide and they use too many slides. (One of my clients actually used 111 in a presentation.) People hide behind PowerPoint and figure if the audience is focused on the technology, it takes the pressure off. True, but it also creates a barrier when trying to connect with people.

Q—So when should you use PowerPoint?

A—When it adds to what you are saying. PowerPoint works when you can show graphs or charts that allow you to compare things more effectively than words. Further, it works when shows movement and uses sound, which can’t be done by simply speaking. If it doesn’t do these things, then don’t use it.

Q—But what about the salesman who continued to use PowerPoint while ignoring the request of a key decision-maker? Why didn’t he get it?

Simple. He must have thought something was wrong with the other guy. He couldn’t understand why the other guy wasn’t bowled over by his data dump. My bet is that he does this all the time. But he is communicating for himself, not for his audience. If he’s happy, that’s all that matters. However, the rest of us understand that this is not all that matters and communicators like Joe miss the mark by a mile. As a result, we avoid them like the plague.

Do you recognize this PowerPoint obsessed presenter? Could it be you? If so, what are you going to do about it?