PowerPoint Doesn’t Bore an Audience, Scripted Speakers Bore an Audience

This is the second of a three-part series on delivering memorable presentations. The first part on the power of presence is available here.

Public speaking can be an energizing experience for both you and your audience. Indeed, you do not have to be satisfied with merely enduring your presentation.

I’ve read much poor advice about public speaking. Scripting is a recipe for making presentations that are uncomfortable for you and unmemorable for your audience. Preparing—but not scripting—is the secret. And using PowerPoint slides can help you deliver an effective, unscripted presentation.

PowerPoint has gotten a bad rap. I would paraphrase the famous saying, “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” as follows: PowerPoint doesn’t bore an audience to death, scripted speakers bore an audience to death.

Some speakers, in an attempt to reduce their fears, rehearse their talk over and over again until they know every word by heart. They leave no room for spontaneity or authenticity. Their scripted talk is almost certainly going to bore themselves and their audiences.

I prefer an approach that helps you join with your audience. Yes, preparation is essential. Preparation encompasses such things as cultivating expertise on your material and outlining your talk using PowerPoint slides—but it does not encompass knowing the specific things that you are going to say.

Cultivating expertise means studying the material that you are presenting until you have a passion for it. If you have no passion, go back, and study some more. If you have a passion for a subject, you will naturally study it on an ongoing basis.

If your presentation is to be outstanding, you need to be responsive to your audience. By responsive, I don’t mean merely answering their questions. I mean that your presentation itself is guided and influenced by the concerns and needs of those in the room. These concerns and needs are frequently unspoken.

Years ago, I was invited to give Congressional testimony on nuclear power. The norm at Congress is that you submit prepared remarks and read those remarks verbatim. I couldn’t help myself—the needs of the moment inspired me to go beyond what I had already written. I was on the final panel of experts at the end of a long day; and I assure you, the only time the bored Congressmen lifted their slumped heads was for my unscripted testimony.

Each of my PowerPoint slides makes one key point; but on the slide, I make liberal use of quotations from other authors that illustrate that point. I expect to cover no more than ten—and usually end up covering far less than ten—slides in an hour.

On each slide there is less than a minute of information to read, and yet I may talk for up to a half hour on the contents of a single slide. How? I use the key points and quotations to trigger my own responsiveness to the moment.

Frequently as I speak, I am hearing myself say something for the first time. I am excited by what I am hearing and that excitement is contagious. That may sound strange to those who deliver a scripted speech.

Being prepared but not scripted means that you trust that there is a voice inside of you that is wiser than any script and that this voice will be there for you and will be responsive to the moment. This voice will not be there for you if you don’t trust it, or if you don’t trust your audience. This voice will not be there for you if you are not prepared or if you are overly concerned about yourself.

An effective presentation means you are joining with an audience in a conversation about important ideas. If an idea is important enough, there are no final answers. When you have the humility to understand there are no final answers, you will give up scripting and allow the audience to join with you on a journey toward greater understanding.

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4 Responses to PowerPoint Doesn’t Bore an Audience, Scripted Speakers Bore an Audience

  1. Dennis Moss says:

    Thank you very much for your comments. I’m finding it more of a challenge applying this insight to technical presentations and hope to become more comfortable in that area. Do you have any suggestions for technical presentations?

  2. Dennis,

    Perhaps the room for spontaneity is in the applications. As you rely less on the script, you will find that up will pop stories of times that you had difficulty or success using the technical idea you are presenting. These stories will pop up, in your mind, to meet the exact needs of your audience. The first step is to trust that this responsive voice in you exists.

  3. Thanks for your observations.

    I agree whole heartedly. When speakers can turn Power Point into the icing on the cake rather than being the cake, they and their audience will both benefit.

    I am using it for the first time in my career, teaching a class on building a successful internet based business. The only time I actually read off the slides is when I need to deconstruct a text or comment on the slide.

    Now to help the rest of the speaking world catch on…

  4. Odale says:

    I rarely stick to what I have written but do need notes to remind me of anecdotes, etc. I think your suggestion in another part of this series struck me more as to a better approach….taking time beforehand to be inwardly quiet. Thank you for taking the time to post this series! Kudos!

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