|3 Common Errors Made by IT Professionals Using PowerPoint - and How to Correct Them|
|Written by Kelly Vandever|
Whether an audience is sitting through a technical presentation, watching a movie, attending a sporting event, sitting through a play, or participating in a business meeting, one thing all audiences have in common is they don’t want you to waste their time. Yet according to the estimates of Dave Paradi, the co-author of the book a Guide to PowerPoint, as much as 15 million man hours are being wasted each day in bad PowerPoint presentations. Before you become another waster of the corporate dollar, consider these 3 common errors of using PowerPoint and how to correct them.
Common Error #1 – Using PowerPoint to Present an Application or Business Flow Diagram
Come on. Who are you trying to kid? You’ve got to know there only a few ways your audience is going to react when you put a flow diagram in your PowerPoint presentation – and none of them are good for getting your message across. Some members of the audience will obsess over dissecting what they are seeing on the screen thereby missing anything you say to them while they try and figure it out. Others will feel their eyes glazing over because they know there’s no way they can read and comprehend what they see before them. But the worst case are those who will check out completely because you’ve insulted them by trying to show how smart you are. Whatever the case, you’re wasting the audience’s time because they are going to miss the message woven between the arrows and the boxes.
The Fix – A PowerPoint slide is not a tool to be used in lieu of other documentation. Keep flow diagram as well as complex charts and graphs in technical requirements documents, research papers, business reports, or white papers. If your audience is extremely interested in the details, provide them with a copy of the documentation. Don’t try to cover it in a PowerPoint slide. PowerPoint is not the solution for all communications needs.
Common Error # 2 – Trying to Communicate Too Much Written Content on a Slide
Granted, there are times when there is a great deal of information you need to communicate to an audience. But putting everything you know about a particular subject on a PowerPoint slide is not an effective way to get your message across.
When viewing a PowerPoint slide, the eye needs empty space around the words to be able to more comfortably read what’s written. Using too many words, small font size, and crowded pages have the same negative impact as the overstuffed flow diagram.
The Fix – Use bulleted information with key words only. Bullets should never contain a complete sentence. If it helps, follow the advice of Claudia Brogan the Training Manager at the Public Health Informatics Institute who advises her presenters to imagine paying a quarter for every word on a slide as an incentive to use only the most important words. Communicate any of those extra words you wanted to use on the slide orally to your audience. And if there are some in your audience who want more information on your topic, follow up with those people off line so you don’t waste the time of the other attendees who don’t desire the additional material.
Common Error # 3 – Not Focusing on Your Audience’s Needs
This is an error not just with PowerPoint but with presentations in general. As an IT professional, you are no doubt versed on your topic and capable of providing a plethora of information – other wise you wouldn’t have been asked to make the presentation in the first place. Whether you put that information on a packed PowerPoint presentation such as in errors 1 & 2 above, or into what you say during the presentation, the error does not lie in how the information is presented but in why the information being presented. Depending on the audience, only select portions of what you know needs to be communicated to meet your audience’s needs.
The Fix - Resist the temptation to share everything you know. Ask yourself, “What does this audience already know about this subject?” and “What does the audience want to know about this subject?” If you are certain that your audience is knowledgeable on your subject, then present the new information they need or introduce alternative view points against their existing assumptions. Don’t rehash what they already know. If your audience is not familiar with your subject, then find out more about their needs. For instance, the kind of information you present to a business person should be in terms that he or she can relate back to the business. Contrast that with an audience full of developers - who you know will insist on understanding the nitty gritty details of the technology. Focus on what the audience needs and present to them in a way that they can understand.
While there may not be anything you can do to curb wasted time in theaters and sporting arenas, you can make a difference in the presentations you are involved in as an IT professional. Follow this advice and eliminate time wasters in your organization.
About the author
Kelly Vandever is a speaker, trainer and consultant and president of Communications for Everyone, LLC. Kelly helps IT leaders and sales professionals who want to achieve better results through improved communications skills. Kelly can be reached through the Communications for Everyone web site http://CommunicationsForEveryone.com.