I do a lot of communication skills training.  Most of it revolves around how to make dynamic presentations.  So when I saw an article in Bloomberg Business Week recently called “Slide Your Way to Hell,” I paid close attention.    The article took a few shots at PowerPoint.  In part it said…

“(PowerPoint) has been installed on no fewer than 1 billion computers.  An estimated 350 PowerPoint presentations are given each second…The best speakers at any corporate level today grip an audience by telling a story and showing some slides to support it.  The boldest among them do away with slides entirely.”

The point here is that while PowerPoint presentations can be useful, they often are misused.  The article pointed out that the New York Knicks used a PowerPoint presentation in an attempt at getting LeBron James to sign with them when he was a free agent.  James signed with Miami and won an NBA championship.  The Knicks are still struggling.

“But everybody in my company uses PowerPoint,” you say, “I have to do so too.”  That may be true – it might be hard to go cold turkey on PowerPoint, but as I tell the people who attend my communication skills training, if you can’t do away with PowerPoint, do away with the bullet points.

I believe that the reason people have come to rely on PowerPoint is because they are lazy.  If you have a whole lot of slides with a whole lot of bullet points, you don’t have to rehearse.  You just stand up there and read the slides.  When you do this, you are truly sliding your way to hell.

I suggest that you use images to reinforce – not make – your points.  People remember images.  And images keep the audience focused on you and what you’re saying.  They’re not reading ahead to see what points you’re going to make.

Here’s an example. I have a friend who lives in New York and is a huge Knicks fan.  He has a New York Knicks vanity license plate that says SLM DNK, with the Knicks logo in the middle of the letters.  Any basketball fan and most people can figure out what those letters mean – if you’re not a fan, they mean “slam dunk.”

I use a story and a slide that shows his license plate to make a point in my communication skills training.  That point is to never assume the other person knows the nuances of your message.

Here’s how it works….

I put the slide up on the screen and ask people what the license plate says.  Almost everybody in the audience immediately says “slam dunk.”

Then I tell this story…

One day my friend was taking a client to lunch.  As they approached his car she said, “Have you met many women with your license plate?”

He said, “No, why do you ask?”

She said, “Because of what it says.”

He said, “What do you think it says?”

She said.  “That’s easy…Single Ladies Man, Divorced No Kids.”

My friend was incredulous.  He thought everybody would know that it meant Slam Dunk.  But then he thought a little more about this woman.  She was single in her mid-thirties.  She had mentioned on a couple of occasions that her biological clock was ticking and that she would like to meet a nice guy, get married and have kids.

When you think about it from that perspective “Slam Dunk” could easily turn into “Single Ladies Man, Divorced No Kids.”

The point I make to my communication skills training participants is never take anything for granted, never assume the other person understands the nuance of the message you are sending.

I accomplish this using one slide – an image of a license plate.  And I know that people remember my point because they tell me that any time they see a vanity plate they think about my point on not taking communication for granted.

As you can see, this was a great way to make that point.  It probably would have taken a couple of slides and several bullet points to do so in a traditional format.

But there is an important point here.  To use images and stories correctly, you have to rehearse your presentation.  The bullet points won’t be there to act as cues.  You’ll have to have practiced what you’re going to say when an image pops up on the screen.

And that’s the common sense communication skills point for today.  Whether you use PowerPoint slides with bullets or images, or no slides at all, you have to practice your talks if you’re going to be good.  Practice, practice, practice.  Make sure you know your stuff.  Do this, and you’ll give dynamic presentations – and be on your way up the corporate ladder.