Is PowerPoint Really That Bad?

Politico writer Roger Simon takes a Jonathan Swift approach to criticizing Paul Ryan’s use of a PowerPoint presentation:

A word about PowerPoint. PowerPoint was released by Microsoft in 1990 as a way to euthanize cattle using a method less cruel than hitting them over the head with iron mallets. After PETA successfully argued in court that PowerPoint actually was more cruel than iron mallets, the program was adopted by corporations for slide show presentations.

Conducting a PowerPoint presentation is a lot like smoking a cigar. Only the person doing it likes it. The people around him want to hit him with a chair.

PowerPoint is usually restricted to conference rooms where the doors are locked from the outside. It is, therefore, considered unsuited for large rallies, where people have a means of escape and where the purpose is to energize rather than daze.

Is PowerPoint that bad? It can be, with presenters who are lazy, don’t understand the technology, or don’t care. Don’t let yourself fall into those categories.

New Presentations Book

New Orleans lawyer Jeff Richardson, of iPhone J.D., diagnoses some all-too common problems-and the beginning of a possible cure:

Most lawyers that I know give presentations from time to time, whether they be formal opening statements or closing arguments to a jury, teaching a CLE, client presentations or even just running a small meeting.  Considering this, you would think that most lawyers should be pretty good at it.  But I am amazed at the number of presentations I see in which lawyers use PowerPoint slides with almost every word of the presentation typed, typically in a small font to fit all of those words on the slide (so the audience can barely read them anyway), and then the presentation consists of little more than reading those slides.

The possible cure? A new $10 ebook by California attorney David Sparks called Presentations. We’ll be reviewing this book but note the publication because of Richardson’s high assessment:

I assumed that the main value of the book would be to teach those PowerPoint-reading speakers how to do a better job with their presentations.  It certainly does that, but to my pleasant surprise, the book is packed with tips that even the most seasoned public speaker would find useful.

One of the biggest weaknesses of most slide show books is an emphasis on slide show technology. This new book sounds like it has a better balance.

Using A Remote Control for Projector

Remote controls free presenters from the need to stand near their laptops. It’s liberating to be able to move freely around a room. I take presentations seriously, so I decided to get my own device. After some research, I selected the best I could find, the Logitech Professional Presenter R800.

Aside from controlling the display of slides, this unit features other handy features, including

  • A timer that vibrates in your hand to alert you that you are almost out of time, and
  • A green laser (much better to me that the red one I used to use)

Are you a serious instructor who presents frequently? A high quality remote may be just the tool you need.

Kennedy/Mighell Podcast Series on Presentation Skills

Dennis Kennedy and Tom Mighell are leading lawyers who have shared their knowledge for a number of years with the  Kennedy-Mighell Report podcast on the Legal Talk Network. Their newest project? A series of three podcasts on presentation skills for lawyers:

  1. Presentation Tips for Legal Professionals
  2. Panel Presentation Pointers for Legal Professionals
  3. Webinar Presentation Pointers for Legal Professionals

Of course, this type of instruction is just as relevant to ethics trainers. Check it out.

Lawyers Teaching Non-lawyers

Most federal ethics training is conducted by lawyers. Most of the people being trained are non-lawyers. Problem? Tom Fox thinks so:

One often hears or reads about complaints that compliance training is dull, nay even boring. I mean, how many times can you expect someone to be lectured to on the riveting subject of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act FCPA or even the UK Bribery Act? Coupled with the legally spellbinding subject, the sessions are often led by lawyers who are training non-lawyers.

While some lawyers are up to the task of making their training engaging, in my experience this is a challenge for many lawyer ethics trainers. A possible solution discussed here previously is greater sharing of ethics training materials. Rather than designing their own training materials as a sort of cottage industry, trainers, including lawyers, should adopt high quality training materials.

Better awareness is another approach. If you are a lawyer, don’t assume that if you understand an explanation, your audience will understand it. Solicit feedback from on your materials and your delivery before you go into “production mode” with your training, and afterward. Most important, learn the difference between talking down to your audience (to be avoided at all costs), and explaining complex things in a way every audience member will understand.

Training Tips Columns Archive

IEC Journal has an archive of the 24 ethics Training Tips Jerry Lawson drafted for them on roughly a monthly basis in 2011-13. These columns cover a wide variety of training techniques, from selecting fonts for use in slide shows to handling questions from hostile audience members. We will be returning and expanding on this material in future posts to this blog.

LLRX.com Presentation Skills Resources

LLRX.com, a project of respected law librarian Sabrina Pacifici, has long been recognized as one of the top legal research sites. Among the many treasures found there: the collection of Presentation Skills resources.

One that caught my eye would benefit many ethics trainers: Storytelling: Wake Up Sleeping Beauty. Stories are one of the most powerful training techniques.

There’s plenty more for trainers at this wonderful site.

Politico & Krugman “Satirical” References to PowerPoint

Politico writer Roger Simon thought he was quite humorous with this 2012  post:

Conducting a PowerPoint presentation is a lot like smoking a cigar. Only the person doing it likes it. The people around him want to hit him with a chair.

PowerPoint is usually restricted to conference rooms where the doors are locked from the outside. It is, therefore, considered unsuited for large rallies, where people have a means of escape and where the purpose is to energize rather than daze.

This follow up post by Nobel Prize-winning economist and NY Times blogger Paul Krugman indicates he’s not exactly a PowerPoint fan either:

I’ll bet [Simon] is not a Charlie Stross reader; if he were, he’d know about the scene in The Jennifer Morgue involving a PowerPoint presentation that turns anyone who watches it into a murderous zombie. Actually, I think I’ve seen that one.

Seeing one too many PowerPoint abusers will make even people as smart as Simon and Krugman hate the tool. However, the tool is just a tool. It can be used well, or it can be used poorly.

Illustrating Slides: Principles of Ethical Conduct

Illustrated Slide--Prin. Eth. Conduct-NASASure, you could include just talk about the Principles of Ethical Conduct, and show a text-only slide of them. Isn’t it more effective to include a picture of a printout of the Principles?

“But no one in the audience can read the tiny print on the picture?” Right. It doesn’t matter. You’ll quote (or probably even better, paraphrase them, as in this slide from NASA. The point of the picture is to add visual interest. It also subtly enhances the presenter’s credibility.  You are not just standing in front of the group making things up.”Seeing is believing,” right?

Here’s a copy of this slide  you can insert into your own slide show. Lots more on the importance of using graphics later.