May 11, 2007

My first PowerPoint presentation



I hesitate to write this, because it's quite shocking, but first let me explain a few things.

I've mentioned that the majority of my speaking career has taken place in nonprofit organizations. Nonprofit organizations are frequently money-challenged. I never worked in a nonprofit that had laptops or LCD projectors until a few years ago. I developed my skills using flip charts, overheads, toys, and my own XL personality.

When I did join an organization that had access to equipment, and the possibility of using PowerPoint arose, I wasn't interested. I had seen so many boring PowerPoint presentations by that time, I couldn't imagine why I would want to inflict that on people. It really hadn't occurred to me that there was another way, and I felt pretty good about being able to do the job with the tools at hand.

I think I might have made a PowerPoint for someone else at work, and maybe even pressed the keys on the computer at one point. But I never gave a PowerPoint presentation.

Last year, I was selected to speak at a conference that requires PowerPoint presentations of every speaker. Not being a fan of PowerPoint, I found this disappointing (not to mention the fact that it's a conference for people in the tea industry - they're not professional speakers and I'm guessing that many have no experience whatsoever with PowerPoint), but I considered it a new challenge. I had been reading PowerPoint blogs and learning about new methods of PowerPoint design for a while at that point - and I know what works and what doesn't.

"It's 2006" (I thought at the time) - I might as well learn how to do this newfangled PowerPoint thing.

I picked up Cliff Atkinson's book, Beyond Bullet Points and dug in.

To my surprise, I discovered that PowerPoint could be beautiful! It could be creative! It could tell a story! It could support the speaker without taking over the presentation! Check out the winners of the Slideshare "World's Best Presentation Contest" to see what I mean.

Which leads me to this past Wednesday. I had completed my PowerPoint for the World Tea Expo seminar some months ago (for the June 2007 conference) and determined that it was pretty good (I'm a creative person, after all).

I also had this seminar scheduled at the PWA conference at UCSB. Since the presentations are practically identical, I decided to test it out at the UCSB conference.

Yes, readers, this was my first PowerPoint presentation, ever.

I had my presentation remote ready to go, and of course, I had my flip chart. And I gave my presentation with PowerPoint. It flowed smoothly . . . I didn't lose my place and forget which slide came next (well, I did a couple of times, but the audience never knew it) . . . I wasn't tied to the computer, so I was still able to be me, moving and interacting the same way I always do . . . and it was great fun!

I really enjoyed having the images on the screen to enhance what I was talking about, but the PowerPoint didn't distract the audience or detract from my presence. The PowerPoint and the flip chart complemented each other and contributed to the overall effectiveness of the seminar.

Am I a convert? Sort of. If you create your PowerPoint properly, it tells a story and contributes to the flow of the presentation. Ideally, it seamlessly does its work behind you while you do the work of engaging the audience and building that connection. The speaker is still the center of attention, no matter how creative the visuals, so the speaker can't just give up all responsibility and expect the PowerPoint to do the work.

And it helps to have plenty of public speaking experience, because there are already a lot of things to think about when presenting, and PowerPoint adds one more - it's like adding another ball to a juggler's routine.

I will never feel that I need PowerPoint to make my presentation complete. I still say that if you can't find the time to learn how to use it properly, don't use it.

But I now can appreciate it as a useful tool and, in the appropriate environment (and of course when it's required), I will definitely use it again.

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