21 Sep Conquering Death by PowerPoint
Book Review: Five Steps to Conquer ‘Death by PowerPoint’: Changing the world one conversation at a time by Eric Bergman
As a frequent speaker, I’m always looking for tools that sharpen my skills. Needless to say, I was intrigued by Eric Bergman’s promise of techniques to avoid humdrum slide decks. 5 Steps to Conquer ‘Death by PowerPoint’ proved to be worth the read, though perhaps not in the way you might expect.
This isn’t a guide to preparing brilliant, creative slide content like that advocated by Slide:ology author Nancy Duarte. And, it definitely won’t teach you how to deliver presos like PowerPoint Jedi master Lawrence Lessig, who punctuates his ideas with hundreds of simple (often single-word) slides (e.g., this).
5 Steps to Conquer ‘Death by PowerPoint’In fact, Bergman doesn’t even like PowerPoint (or other slide software like Keynote and Presi). He thinks that most of the time speakers use these tools badly, and the best presentations often have no slides at all. He highlights the usual PowerPoint sins: text-heavy slides, bullets, reading the text on the slides aloud, etc.
That’s where the similarity to other PowerPoint books ends. Instead of teaching his readers how to make better slides, Bergman focuses on better communication with the audience, starting with thinking about their specific needs. A presentation that addresses a real problem the audience is experiencing will hold their attention far better than one that focuses on the speaker’s expertise.
One of the more interesting concepts Bergman proposes is a “Q ratio” of at least 1. He defines this as the number of questions asked by the audience divided by the length of the presentation in minutes. So, a 40 minute presentation should have at least 40 questions.
In the hundreds of speeches I’ve seen, very few, if any, approach that question to content ratio. Many speakers fill their entire time talking, or leave just a few minutes for questions at the end. Bergman identifies several key strategies that let you turn a speech into a conversation by encouraging questions.
First, the audience should be encouraged to interrupt when they have a question. The speaker, in turn, should answer it and resist the temptation to say, “hold that question, I’m getting there.” That forces the questioner to keep thinking about the question, which actually reduces comprehension of the ensuing content. A good speaker can answer the question succinctly to clear up confusion without derailing the flow of the presentation.
Perhaps the most important (and most often broken) rule in answering questions is that each response must be brief. VERY brief. In training sessions, Bergman has told speakers that for every word over 10 in their answer, they must do 10 push-ups. Needless to say, they count their words! Speakers should avoid anticipating the next question or expanding on their answers. Instead, the audience can dig deeper by asking more questions. Letting the audience steer the discussion is a far better mode of communication than a one-way knowledge dump, and the listeners will remember much more.
5 Steps to Conquering Death by PowerPoint is a quick read, and has some great strategies for improving audience engagement. Will I abandon PowerPoint? Will I try to hit 50 questions in an hour-long keynote? Probably not. But, I find I’m already starting to use Bergman’s cogent advice in structuring both keynotes and much shorter panel content.
By: Roger Dooley