Power Corrupts … and PowerPoint Corrupts (Clear Messaging) Absolutely

4 minute read

Power Corrupts … and PowerPoint Corrupts Absolutely. It’s about 5 years since Edward Tufte made that observation, and goodness knows we’ve all suffered through enough Death by PowerPoint to agree. I’m not proposing to delve into the Cognitive Load Theory of information overload, or the challenge of invoking simultaneous stimuli in your audience (auditory and visual) as you make a presentation loaded with words on the slides and overloaded with verbal overlay. There is sufficient research that shows that people are over-loaded if they have to multi-task when they’re absorbing information. Based on a some recent sales calls I’ve been involved in, I’ve a few observations to make, some suggestions, and an exercise that I believe will help you better communicate your message.

No one reads the title on slides anymore. With so much time spent on the Internet, we’ve all become conditioned to ignore the advertising banners that take up the top inch of so of a web page. So it is that titles on slides – often used by presenters as the main point being made on the slide – are ignored. I’m not sure that much attention was ever paid to the top area of the slide anyway. Communication theory would say that if you want someone to remember something that you say, then that should be the last point you make. Finish with the point you want people to remember.

When creating a presentation (or a brochure or ad for that matter) you need to think about the single most important thing you want people to get from the slide. Not the three or five points, just the one point, and those words or image (images are better) that support that message better not reside in the title or it will be ignored. Typically (in the western world) your eyes quickly go from top left to bottom right – so where should you have the key message? Bottom right. Most of the stuff at the top of the screen gets ignored. There’s a reason why news tickers on CNN run along the bottom, not along the top.

Let your voice tell the story. Adding words to your presentation as an aide-memoire might help you, but will confuse your audience. Speaker support is not the same as audience suport. The slide should illustrate what you’re saying – not replace it. It’s all about arrows – not bullets. You should be pointing the way you want your audience to go, not taking them on a sightseeing tour on the journey – they will only get distracted.

Simplifying your message. The challenge therefore is to be crystal clear on what you want to say and consider what you want the audience to feel, think, and do when you’ve delivered your message. Here’s an exercise your might do if you want to get really clear on a building a sales message, or a value proposition, to a customer. It’s best done with two or more people.

  1. Turn your computer off.
  2. Have each participant write down the key message or value proposition in exactly 32 words.
  3. Swap your description with the other participants and discuss the relative merits of each version.
  4. Now repeat step 2 – but this time reduce the message to 16 words.
  5. Repeat step 3, and then continue to iterate until you’re down to just two words – the two words you want people to remember from your presentation, sales call or value proposition.

This isn’t about dumbing down. You can make things simple, without making them simplistic.

When we did this exercise at The TAS Group, it illuminated for all participants the core value that we deliver to customers. Of course, in the early steps in the exercise there was a lot of talk about sales methodology, increased revenue, accurate sales forecasts, and advanced technology, but, at the end when we asked the question – “What do we help our customers improve?”, the answer in just two words was sales performance, and everyone gets that.

Attribution: Some of the thoughts and comments in this post are based on theories or writings from The Thiagi Group and simply communicate.



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