Public Speaking — Without PowerPoint

PM Commentary by Stacy Goff, ProjectExperts CEO.
The title of this article is an observation I’ve made, about speakers and trainers who depend too much on PowerPoint slides. For over 40 years, I have used slides in presentations, first using transparencies, with a light-box projector. Later, I used portable computers; today, I can do so with an easy-to-carry tablet, connected to small projectors.  

The purpose of this article is to acknowledge the challenges involved in reducing OPD, Overwhelming PowerPoint Dependency, in speeches and public presentations. By the way, this is not a diatribe against PowerPoint; used correctly, it remains a very useful tool. But this year there were at least three occasions where I did not have the convenience of using PowerPoint and its projected images. I had to Speak –Without PowerPoint. Those occasions include Lew Ireland’s funeral, the Helsinki PMAF Congress, and my own Father’s funeral. Below are my insights from each.

Lew Ireland’s Funeral
IPMA-USA was represented at co-founder and past President Lew Ireland’s funeral last Spring by John Colville and myself. It was clear that Lew’s neighbors, friends and some of his family had little idea of the massive contributions Lew has made, over a 30+ year period, to the practice of professional project management. So we included the testimonies of people from all over the world in Lew’s Eulogy.

Of course, there were no PowerPoint slides. And yet, we all know the statistics about the proportion of people who would rather read than hear our messages. But two common speaker tactics helped deliver the messages. First, I used an approach I learned from Lew: I recorded the testimonies of many of those above-mentioned people on index cards, and read them to the audience. We always thought Lew’s use of index cards to be a little quaint; but they gave focus and individuality to each of the tributes, while serving as a useful cue for the words to be shared.

The second tactic includes use of the wide range of speaker tools that are well-presented in the book mentioned above. Those include use of body language, intonation, stories and passion to deliver the message. All within the confines of a Eulogy, so the methods were not quite as extreme as you might see in other settings.

This was an interesting experience, and a very large number of people who came up afterwards mentioned how much they appreciated hearing all Lew’s achievements that had been unknown to them. Mission accomplished! And without PowerPoint!

Helsinki PMAF Congress
In my November and December articles I discussed (taking over 4000 words) our Dinner Speech at the November PMAF Congress. Project Management Association Finland puts on some of the best major events in project management, and part of the reason for their success is the scripting, selection and control exerted by the organizer, Jyry Louhisto and PMAF president Heikki Lonka.

When I found out that Jyry wanted me to cover six major and complex topics on his agenda, with around 250 Dinner Meeting attendees, and this was to be around 15 minutes, my first reaction was, “No way!” And then Jyry said, of course , there can be no PowerPoint slides. This was nearly impossible! But our experience with Lew’s index cards saved the day. Or evening. Recording each topic, and several key words about the 3-5 responses to each, I used the cards to deliver the Dinner Speech, unobtrusively glancing at the cards to maintain content and pace. And the cards were very useful in re-use: they were the major input to the two last month’s articles about the event.

A Recent Eulogy
My Father died last month. As the eldest in our family, he had wanted me to speak at his funeral. By now, I had mastered the use of index cards. In his eulogy, I wanted to express, to a large audience that mostly knew only the Jim Goff of the last 25 years, the multiple aspects of Dad’s 89 years of contributions to  family, industry, community, and our country. Of course, Lew’s index cards were again the key. And my two earlier experiences allowed the stories to flow in a free and easy dialogue–and obviously, without PowerPoint.

Afterwards, my youngest sister Mary Jo remarked, that although I turned the cards with each key point, I never looked at the cards–instead, I was watching the congregations’ reaction all around the church. It appears that Lew’s index cards have two major purposes: a) Helping organize thoughts into convenient “information packages; and b) serving as a confidence builder, in case one forgets what must come next. The actual use of the cards–as I observed Lew do, in 15 years of working with him, is just like projects: They are most important in the planning, and only after that in support of effective delivery.

The Speaker’s Truth
Next time you are speaking, whether at a church, a dinner meeting, or some other occasion, and you don’t have access to PowerPoint, you need not struggle. Just follow one of Lew’s many good examples that he has left us with: use Index Cards to record your thoughts. Then, remember to demonstrate all your interpersonal skills in engaging your audience in your message.

We can live without PowerPoint–and we can also use it much more effectively when we do use it. And these experiences in 2012 offer me ways to improve my own use of PowerPoint–or Keynote–or whatever–assisted delivery. Of course, I am rather enjoying Speaking — Without PowerPoint!

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