Friday, April 15, 2016

Why executives use Powerpoint

I sometime repeat this joke, stolen from a friend of mine:
What's the difference between an introvert and an extrovert? The introvert thinks before he speaks.

(I pause, and let the audience "get" it. They assume the extrovert thinks afterwards. But that's not true, I say. The extrovert thinks as she speaks.)
I'm just over three months into my new CIO role, and I've noticed something interesting about how I work. I rarely have time to write documents anymore.

When I worked as the campus CIO in higher ed, we were a small campus, and I had a small IT team. So it wasn't very difficult to carve out time from my day to write a strategy document, or a framing document, or an organizational document. I wrote a lot of documents as campus CIO.

In my new CIO role, I'm in a much larger organization. I'm always meeting with people. That in-person contact is very important to me; I like to build relationships with those I work with, as a way to get things done. When I'm not in a one-on-one meeting, I'm usually in a committee meeting or a steering committee meeting or a governance meeting. These are important meetings too; they are the mechanics of projects.

But the side-effect of all those meetings is that I rarely have time to write documents. So instead of writing documents, I prepare a Powerpoint slide deck, and I speak to those issues when I'm making my presentation.

That's when I realized why so many executives rely on Powerpoint. If you're like me, and you're short on time but you can compose well while speaking, it takes less time to create a few Powerpoint slides and talk about your topic than it does to write a document and edit it.

So if you're at the contributor level or manager level and you wonder why the executives always seem to be using Powerpoint, that might be the reason.

But even though I use Powerpoint more frequently now, I always follow my own advice about presentations:

If you don't have to use Powerpoint, don't use Powerpoint.
Not all presentations require slides. Sometimes, you only need to reference something that already exists. In these cases, you may not even need Powerpoint. Don't use Powerpoint as a crutch. Because if you can avoid using Powerpoint, you should.
Think about the questions you can ask your audience to help them get down the road.
What questions will engage your audience, to start them thinking more deeply about the topic? What will "hook" them?
Leverage polling or some other technique to disarm the audience.
In my meetings, I have used affinity exercises and "dot" voting to great effect. Anonymous polling allows the group to quickly reach a consensus, and they are more likely to ask follow up questions.
Don't make Powerpoint the star of the show.
If you must use Powerpoint, at least don't make your slides distracting, or you risk losing your audience. Focus on your content. Use slides that are visual, not wordy. Leave room to talk around the bullet points.
Tell a story.
The best presentations don't rely on slides; they leverage a "story" to engage the audience. A great speaker doesn't need much in the way of slides or materials to convey a message. Instead, find ways to tell a story around your presentation. Use examples drawn from real life to make your presentation more concrete.
image: Wikimedia/Onlysee (cc by-sa)

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