Right now thousands of people stare at their computer screens and fill in slide after slide in corporate presentations – version 1, version 2, version 3… Right now other thousands of people stare at real or virtual screens and listen to corporate presentations, or at least they pretend to do so, while secretly chatting with a colleague or scrolling Instagram.
Although a great visual tool, presentations and presenting have become a burden in the corporate world. And it is time we stop misusing them. According to an article in Forbes, reporting on a Harvard University survey, the Power Point presentation can actually hurt our brand perception. “Intuitively, anecdotally, and scientifically, PowerPoint may be the worst business tool ever created”, writes another columnist in inc.com
I am not an extremist and this is not an article to condemn presentations, let alone Power Point, which I gladly use to organise my thoughts many times. Exactly the opposite. I am trying to bring back the power to the presentations as a tool that can be used intentionally and meaningfully. This is why it is up to us to think twice next time we are called on the corporate stage – "Is there another way to express what I want to say instead of doing a good old “next-slide-please” presentation?". Usually, there is.
I recently started a challenge to myself: #NoPresentationsFriday. The hashtag is pretty self-explanatory. I put myself on presentations diet at least one day a week, in order to ping my creative juices and to seek other ways of expression. I also asked my LinkedIn circle what could be alternatives to a presentation and they came up with smart and useful proposals.
Aneta Savova, leadership advisor for corporate women, suggested
“Good old flip chart used very, very, very sparingly;))”.
And she added that
"It feels like we forgot how to speak to each other without some sort of an electronic gadget around."
The marketing manager of Sodexo Benefits and Rewards Services Victor Djerassi commented that he is 100% on board with the idea that we need to cut down on presentations.
“I still use the "old normal" tools - pen and paper when i need to draft the backbone of an idea or a presentation. Online meetings, with shared screens and cameras off, are slowly killing whatever little is left of the meaningful human interaction”.
The founder of ZIVO Zlatina Mihaylova shared that she uses https://www.mindmeister.com/ with teams to collaborate and link different mindmaps.
Here are a couple of other ideas, some of which I tested myself in the past couple of weeks.
Use props instead of slides
If the situation allows it, use props. Think of yourself as an actor in a theatre and build a décor around you that can help in the presentation. For instance in a recent online presentation, where I was applying our company for an award in front of a jury, I wanted to make an impression with a fact how low the cost per person a project turned out to be. Usually I would put on a PPT slide with big letters “Cost: 10 cents per person”. Instead I chose to use props. I said: “…and the cost was only…” and showed a close up to the camera of a 10-cents coin. In the same online presentation I showed on camera how I exercise with dumbbells to convey a message about the fact that we build financial education and healthy finances just as we build muscles - with regular exercises. And when I really wanted to show a visual, I had previously made them as part of the décor around me and showed them close to the camera in neat wooden frames. Could I have put all that in PPT slides? Yes, for sure. But would I have had so much fun? Less likely. I am still waiting for the verdict of the jury whether our application was successful, but whatever happens, I know I put my best effort that Saturday.
Power Point alternatives
I was a jury member recently to an entrepreneurship competition of high school students. Due to COVID-19, all of us, jury, organizers and competing teams, were online. When the time to present their start-up businesses came, none, and I mean NONE of the students presented with Power Point slides. Certainly, they did presentations, skilfully crafted with very little words on the slides, but they did it in Canva, Prezi, Google Slides… When a technical problem with the internet connection on the desktop appeared, the kids had no trouble switching to their phones and continuing to share from there where they left off on the other device – because their collaboratively crafted presentation was in the Cloud. Talk about digital natives and omni-channel experience!
Sometimes you really need to show something – a graph with a trend, an engaging picture with real people, whom the audience can recognise, a group of logos to choose from. One idea is to send to the participants in advance an executive summary in Word a document with your key messages. Similar idea comes from Amazon. Based on internet reports, instead of presentations to the meetings, the participants in meetings in Amazon receive a resume of the idea or topic of discussion and everyone in the room is asked to read it in silence for the first 5-10 minutes of the meeting. The assumption is that most of the people come to meetings unprepared. Amazon has this clever way to make sure everyone is literally on the same page and discussion can be more productive, because people at the meeting will actually have familiarised with the topic.
What about just talking?
One of the most underrated, but highly engaging idea it... to just talk. The only caveat: you need to have something that matters to be told and you cannot hide behind a beautiful slide. So stand straight, look directly into the camera (if online) and to the audience if in person, and just say what you want to say. Speak in short and clear sentences.
Always know that the audience feels whether the speaker is engaged or not, excited or not, involved or not, in what he or she communicates. With or without a presentation, when you as a presenter look interested and engaged, there is a high chance that other people in the room, be it real or virtual, will be interested too. So next time you have something to share with an audience, stand straight, smile a little and just have fun with it.
Victory Corners 2021, by Viktoriya V. Blazheva