The presentation IS YOU!

Why you don't need Powerpoint - or at least, why you don't need it most of the time

Look, we are naturally blessed with the best presentation tools in the universe - the human face, voice and body. They are just fantastic.

But - the human eye is drawn to light. It's why we look into the fire, sit around the TV, and stare out at the sparkly ocean.

So if I'm using every part of my being, every muscle in my face, body and voice-box to sell you my idea, then the last thing I want is a large glowing rectangle behind my left shoulder.

That area of light will mesmerise you, it will suck out your attention through your eyeballs. Look at the image at the start of this post, who would look at the presenter's face or body language?

This is why you should think very carefully before deciding to use Powerpoint/Keynote or whatever.

(If I use an aid at all, I prefer a flipchart when I present. It is human-sized - I am pretty sure I could beat one in a fight. With preparation it can do almost anything Powerpoint can do, and most importantly it does not glow.)

For bigger spaces, you are going to need a bigger visual aid, I admit. But be very careful. One of the few people who gets this nearly right is Steve Jobs in his famous Apple product presentations. Looking at these from a theatrical point of view you will notice that Steve's huge Keynote screen only dominates when he wants it to dominate.

He uses black backgrounds, so there is almost no light from the screen - but Steve has a 15KW spotlight on him all the time. He wears black - like a Covent Garden mime artist - and his dark clothes emphasise his expressive face and hands. When he has finished showing us something, the screen quietens down to a simple image and we turn our attention back to Steve. And of course his slides are visually simple - often just two or three words which we can read in half a second.

The result? We are looking at Steve, not at the screen, while he is enthusing on his ideas.

The message is simple: always remember the presentation is YOU.

So avoid projected light if you can - or get yourself projected up there.

PS: If you really can't avoid using the Big Screen, then only use it when you absolutely have to, concentrating on bare bones facts (like Steve) and emotive images (like Seth Godin recommends). And as soon as you are done with each slide, TURN IT OFF!


Anonymous said...

A fire on the stage is definitely going to attract attention :)

And thank you for telling us why Steve Jobs appears every time with this same scruffy black outfit :)

Here is one of Seth Godin's presentations that I watched recently - talking about broken things - quite funny and insightful: Google video link

Martin Shovel said...

Thanks for your comment on my blog post. I've just tweeted a link to your/this post. Cheers, Martin

Anonymous said...

Excellent and pleasant article!
I totally agree.
I posted a link to your article at my Facebook wall.
Regards, Peter John Mäki

Adam StJohn Lawrence. said...

Thanks for the comments and links! I appreciate it!


Carles Caño said...

Absolutely right!

Ron Galloway ask Dave Paradi “What is the best PowerPoint slide you have ever seen?”

And Dave answered: "the best slide is a black slide" (so the presenter gets all the attention).

Then I realized that if you put a white circle over a black background, you have a really very good slide slide: a spotlight for the presenter ;-)

Small demo (in Spanish) here:

Adam StJohn Lawrence. said...

Great idea Carles! The only problem might be that you cannot always know the height that your screen will be at...

But imagine yourself in the spotlight with ideas (or even "think bubbles") appearing around your head....

Tsufit said...

You are SO right.

The irony of it being called "PowerPoint" is that it actually dilutes your power by diverting attention away from you.
Author, Step Into The Spotlight!

Carles Caño said...

Hey Adam, I love the "think bubbles" idea. I think I'll do it someday :)

You are right, you cannot always know the height of the screen. BUT... (there's always a but :) you can check it out before you begin the presentation and readjust the size or position of the white circle.

That's what I did in my last presentation, check the video we recorded, minute 40.

We didn't know if "the spotlight effect" would be a good idea but the audience reaction was very good and they took it with humor :)

Dick said...

Amen, brother! On the other hand the projector can be great fun for shadow puppets. Seriously, your point is well taken -- the presenter who lets the audience focus on the screen is losing the war for the audience. The audience will remember little, care even less but they may get a nice nap. Same thought appears several times in my blog. too (, Presentation Impact) and I'm always amazed at how hard it is to get presenters to "get it".

Adam StJohn Lawrence. said...

Thanks Dick! Really enjoying browsing your blog!

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