PowerPoint presentations are now outlawed at Amazon's executive meetings, but it's still an effective presentation tool. Here's how to get it right.
We’ve all sat through “that” meeting. The presenter talks through slides of bulleted lists with half-baked talking points. As the presenter reads the bullets on screen, it’s hard not to wonder what else you could be doing with your time. So, it goes without saying that I was hardly shocked when-;after years of enduring ineffective presentations where PowerPoint is used as a crutch-;Jeff Bezos outlawed PowerPoint for Amazon’s executive meetings.
And when Amazon does something, many other companies will soon follow suit. But before you send out a memo forbidding the use of PowerPoint at your next meeting, keep in mind that this presenting tool isn’t dead just yet.
Amazon’s decree was more about eliminating bad presentations than it was about PowerPoint itself. What Amazon executives have replaced PowerPoint with is, essentially, an essay that’s sent out before the meeting. After everyone has read it, the teams meet in person to discuss. This method forces people to focus on the narrative but sometimes a long essay can be just as boring as a terrible presentation.
Eliminating PowerPoint specifically isn’t going to solve the problem. Instead, we need to focus on using tried-and-true best practices. So, if you want to create a PowerPoint presentation so powerful that Jeff Bezos might rescind his edict, then try a few of these tips in your next talk.
Tell a story
Storytelling is an incredibly powerful tool.
According to an article from Harvard Business Review, “Organizational psychologist Peg Neuhauser found that learning…from a well-told story is remembered more accurately, and for far longer, than learning derived from facts and figures. Similarly, psychologist Jerome Bruner’s research suggests that facts are 20 times more likely to be remembered if they’re part of a story.”
You can add storytelling elements into your next presentation without requiring your audience to read an essay beforehand. That’s the beauty of presenting-;you get to take the audience on the journey with you. This is even what the curator of TED recommends when coaching presenters for TED Talks.
Your presentation should have a story arc with a beginning, middle, and end. Start with conflict and end with resolution (or an open forum for discussing ideas). This technique can work on anything whether it’s the annual business report or a pitch for investor funding.
A (good) picture is worth a thousand words
There’s a time and place for visuals in your presentation. When done well, a photo or illustration can really bring a point home. For example, if you’re talking about the success of the company’s volunteer program, then use an emotional photo to illustrate the impact your company made during the program.
But remember, your visuals need to tie into your story and get to the point quickly. Avoid relying too heavily on visual-;you don’t want to turn the presentation into a dreaded slideshow.
Consider using (short) videos
Similar to the photo concept, playing a video can also be a powerful way to highlight your story. Keep these videos short-;30-60 seconds-;and even consider recording narration over them (this will give you a quick break to take a breath or sip some water).
Introducing a video is also a great way to shake up the presentation. Videos can grab your audience’s’ attention while illustrating points that may be a bit too abstract to describe. So, instead of explaining why the new content management system will make life easier, show a quick video of how it works in action.
Attention spans only seem to be getting shorter. One way to keep your audience engaged throughout the presentation is by making them a part of it. Open up the floor for questions after each slide and give people the opportunity to speak up. If you’re concerned about the topic going off course or running out of time, feel free to table a specific question to the end. The key is to allow the conversation to be organic while making sure the train stays on the rails.
When Bezos banned PowerPoint he wasn’t simply banning the software. He was eliminating a tool that so many presenters have abused for far too long. PowerPoint isn’t a crutch. It isn’t a tool to help you remember your lines. It’s a program that, when used well, can help you hammer your point home. With the right use of storytelling, visuals, and interactivity, you can create an effective presentation that even Jeff Bezos would love.