How do I do a presentation without Powerpoint?
July 26, 2008 11:32 AM   Subscribe

How do I give an effective presentation without Powerpoint?

While I've never enjoyed public speaking, I have had to do a number of presentations this year for work, and have got to the point where I'm comfortable doing the presentation, even though I know I'm not the most dynamic speaker. The presentations are on a subject I'm knowledgable in and passionate about.

I've used Powerpoint for all the presentations so far, with 2-3 pages of bullet points related to the informational part of the presentation, then 15-20 full screen photos to provide visual support for the 'stories' part of the presentation.

In mid-August I have to do a presentation without using Powerpoint (various reasons - outdoor location being the main one) and as I know I'm not a strong speaker, I'm a bit worried about keeping people engaged during the presentation, which will be about 30 minutes and for anything from 15-50 people.

I will probably make the information part of the presentation a little shorter than usual, though it is all valid information that needs to be included. How do I present it without having the bullet points on the screen? I'm thinking of bringing handouts which could have the usual bullet points - would people refer to these as I'm talking to follow along, or just take them away to refer to afterwards?

For the stories, I can have a few photos printed poster-size to display while I'm talking, but can't do that for all 15-20 slides I would normally use. I will bring 'props' related to the stories (i.e. physical items) which will help a lot, but not having the pictures makes me feel like I'm losing a big part of what makes the presentation interesting.

Any suggestions on making the presentation work without my usual visuals would be welcome.
posted by valleys to Work & Money (21 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
I've always liked having the handouts. Gives me something to take notes on where I can more easily add what I've written and have it connect to what you've said.
posted by theichibun at 11:42 AM on July 26, 2008

make a one page outline of your talk that you can refer to if you get lost. you probably will only look at it once or twice, if at all, but having it there really helps.

try to engage the audience and make things more interactive. you are free to go off at tangents in a way that is not possible with slides. you can also take time to focus more on the parts that are not getting through.

those two suggestions don't conflict as much as you might think - the outline can help you get back on course after a discussion with someone in the audience.
posted by not sure this is a good idea at 11:46 AM on July 26, 2008

Start with the (correct) assumption that it is nearly impossible to do an effective presentation with powerpoint and that powerpoint is more likely to hurt your presentation than help it.

Handouts are better. Other visual aids are also better -- something other than a thing on a screen. A whiteboard can be effective if done right, as can a big easel with paper.

But you really don't need visuals, frankly.
posted by The World Famous at 11:47 AM on July 26, 2008

also, the smaller the group the better for this kind of thing. in a big group you can't do the interaction so end up giving the powerpoint talk without the powerpoint (if you see what i mean).
posted by not sure this is a good idea at 11:48 AM on July 26, 2008

Yeh, I do a fair amount of public speaking into two main sectors: first banking, which covers both internal and external folks, and University, where I teach econometrics.

I actually prefer to talk without PowerPoint, as I feel it 1) constrains me, and 2) offers too many distractions, and I'm not talking about effects (which I don't use) but rather data / tables / etc. For example, when talking PowerPoint slides sometimes I'll get a left field question about some obscure relationship in the data which totally misses the bigger picture, the message I'm trying to deliver. For a while now I've been moving to simpler presentations, with details given as takeaways.

You're going to have to define a simple, very clean structure for your presentation and communicate it clearly at the outset. Obviously, given the time and the lack of PowerPoint this will have to be pretty simple - think three certainly no more than four - key points that you'd like to make then follow the golden rule - tell them what you're gonna tell them, tell them what you said you'd be telling them, and then tell them what you just told them.

The flow should be obvious so folks know where you're going from point to point, and where you are roughly in the overall presentation. I always try to keep in light and move quickly. When I talk without PowerPoint I engage the audience a lot more, which also helps flow and keeps attention focused.

I distribute handouts with the details after my presentation as I want all attention on me and all faculties available to absorb the message.
posted by Mutant at 11:50 AM on July 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

Handouts would be good, but a chalkboard or a white board would be better. The process of copying your notes will force the audience to be more active learners, and force you to make conscious, immediate decisions regarding what information you want to emphasize. The problems with "aids" like Powerpoint is that they make it really, really easy for the audience to tune out. While handouts have the benefit of allowing you to make connections between what you're saying, and what's in front of them, many people might consider this a justification not to listen actively--because they have the important information in hand and can just look at it later.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:55 AM on July 26, 2008

Start with the (correct) assumption that it is nearly impossible to do an effective presentation with powerpoint and that powerpoint is more likely to hurt your presentation than help it.

No need to rip on the guy's standard practice, particularly if he's using powerpoint the way you'd use a slide projector.

See The Ultimate Storytelling Guide.
posted by salvia at 12:00 PM on July 26, 2008

People gave speeches for thousands of years before PowerPoint was invented, and indeed before slides or projectors were invented. When you give a speech without visual aids people actually look at you and listen to what you are saying. Work on the text of the speech to make it interesting - there are lots of tricks. Surprise them. Have a relevant joke or two. Share your passion on the subject with them. You will wonder why you ever used PowerPoint in the first place.
posted by w0mbat at 12:01 PM on July 26, 2008

If you need a mic, use a wireless clip on, so you can move around, and have your hands free.

The best possible way to work is to encourage and draw out questions and comments during the presentation, and then respond eloquently to them on the spot, segueing back gracefully to your outline. If you are up to it.
posted by StickyCarpet at 12:05 PM on July 26, 2008

I'm with Mutant, but a simpler way of thinking about the Powerpoint/No Powerpoint dichotomy is that, when you give a Powerpoint presentation, you are generally talking to an "audience." When you eschew Powerpoint, you are, to a great extent, leading or facilitating a discussion with a group.

In other words, without Powerpoint, you can focus on engaging the group through Socratic and conversational techniques. Ask leading questions, and solicit answers and contributions. Share the responsibility for moderation with the group, allowing it to guide the pace and focus of the presentation, by discussion, and via non-verbal pacing cues such as fidgeting and side talking. Summarize more, and pay explicit attention to keeping the group "located" in the discussion time slot and topic, so that you communicate some sense of agenda. "It's a quarter way through the period, and now that we've identified the main causes of WWI, we should turn to the starting strengths of each nation/state, as a cause for the development of the conflict. If we can accomplish that by the halfway point, we'll take a 5 minute break, right afterward."
posted by paulsc at 12:07 PM on July 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

For some of my presentations (scientific field) I still use overhead transparencies. You can carry a whole ream of slides for unexpected topics, and you can draw on them to illustrate things. Of course since this is the Powerpoint Age, I usually have my projector with me just to be safe when I really think I need this route.
posted by tinkertown at 12:14 PM on July 26, 2008

Can you use flipcharts? I typically will use two flipcharts on easel stands, one with pre-prepared pages with key points, illustrations, etc. (replacing your powerpoint slides) and the other with just blank pages that I use to capture ideas and audience responses on the fly during the course of the class.
posted by platinum at 1:00 PM on July 26, 2008

The more natural question is, how do I give an effective presentation WITH PowerPoint.

Trust this measure. The heavier the use of PowerPoint, the more lightweight and useless the presentation. You have information to impart to your audience. w0mbat and others have it exactly right. Share your knowledge directly with your audience, and engage them in the discourse.
posted by vers at 1:32 PM on July 26, 2008

While handouts can be useful, be aware that if you are boring someone, if you have given them a piece of paper to fiddle with, they will fiddle.

If it's adults you'll probably have better luck keeping their attention, but if it's kids, think carefully about handouts.
posted by InsanePenguin at 2:38 PM on July 26, 2008

I prefer to not use PowerPoint if I can help it. I'm a huge fan of easel paper (or, even better, wipe-off-and-reuse easel boards - get them at Staples) and/or whiteboard, and markers. I also use handouts - especially good if people want to follow along and take notes.

Having been on both sides (as presenter and audience), keep your presentation simple. You want people to listen to you and your message - not wow them with bells and whistles. A simple, straightforward presentation that engages the audience and allows them to participate - through question and answer sessions, brainstorming, role-playing, etc. - is the best kind of presentation, IMO. Audience participation has the additional benefit of keeping people awake and participating (ideally).
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 6:02 PM on July 26, 2008

Working the Room:

"Morgan, the founder of a communications coaching company, proposes what he calls "the audience-centered presentation process," in which the speaker listens to that audience-two-way communication, in other words. Morgan breaks down the generation of such a presentation into a series of steps, with guidelines and methods for overcoming phobias (he is adamant that his readers conduct the most intensive rehearsals possible, including at least one in the actual presentation site). He also warns against Q & A sessions (particularly for the media), lame and irrelevant jokes, and videoconferencing, and seems to loathe Power Point.".

Highly recommended. One of his key points bears repeating - that a presentation is a performance, and like any actor, you must rehearse, rehearse, rehearse.
posted by storybored at 6:16 PM on July 26, 2008

Personally, I'm against hand-outs. If I attend your presentation and you give me a hand-out the first thing I will do is read your hand-out while completely zoning you out. That's just what I (and a lot of other people) do. Besides, if your handout was any good, why would I need to actually go to your presentation?

One of way of engaging your audience is by starting out with questions. That will get people thinking and make them engaged.

I have no idea what your story/presentation is about, but I'm absolutely sure you can be very effective without pictures. It's almost better without pictures because you can play on people's imagination. Remember that old lady on the Golden Girls, she always said, "Picture this! . . ." And she'd launch into some crazy story. Start with something like that and then launch into an impassioned description of whatever your story is about. Get excited. Body language, etc.

You said you're passionate about it. Well, that's the key for any good presentation/story/performance. People will become engaged through your enthusiasm and passion. People naturally respond to your cues. So have fun and they will.
posted by Wayman Tisdale at 9:12 PM on July 26, 2008

I took a public speaking class a couple weeks ago that was very good. One of the things they instructed us to do was to create a "Core Message", one sentence that summarizes the entire talk and serves as the message you want your listeners to receive. Then, you repeat your Core Message multiple times (at least 3) throughout the talk. Then you want to structure the talk so that each of your main pints supports this core message. So you could relate each page of bullet points to the main message. You might think about moving the "stories" sections into the discussion of each of the bullet points, if that seems reasonable. Stories are a great way to solidify something in a learner's mind, and they encourage interaction.

Use your body as your own visual aid. Use gestures, but watch where your hands are, don't keep them folded in front of you. If you need to, use one hand for gestures, and keep the other one in your pocket. For any points you have that talk about numbers, use your hands to visually indicate "increase", "decrease", "high", and "low" when you're speaking. When you ask a question to the audience, raise your own hand to indicate that they should respond in kind. Move around, but don't pace; make deliberate movements. If you're outside in Mid-August somewhere in North America, likely it's going to be hot and you better have some water. But don't keep it handy, keep it where you might have to walk to it, and after an important point, pause, and walk to your water to let the point sink in.

Eye contact is hugely important when you're trying to engage an audience. When someone uses Powerpoint, a lot of times the presenter turns to look at the slides, and isn't actually speaking to the audience. But, when you actually make eye contact with various people in the audience, it shows that you yourself are engaged with the topic, and you care about the people you're talking to.

Good Luck! If you know your topic well, which it sounds like you absolutely do, you'll do great.
posted by sarahnade at 10:06 PM on July 26, 2008

It seems like your powerpoint presentation is mostly bullet points with some pictures tacked on at the end. Everybody who is telling you you don't need powerpoint is correct. Visual aids should be used for interpreting or clarifying the information you are telling us in a new and powerful manner. If you are just listing information in bullet points, you are doing neither.

If you can type it, you can say it. If you can say it, why would you make us read it?

But let's dismiss the powerpoint issue for now. As a person who has sat through countless, innumerable student speeches and given more speeches than I can remember, the biggest thing I would suggest you work on is your focus. If you have a narrow, well defined topic, with clear, concise main points, you can more than make up for poor delivery or dry material.

It is when you deliver poorly organized material that you often lose an audience. If we can't follow your speech, we give up. We are rarely going to put in a lot of extra effort into trying to track you through muddled examples or over-extended metaphors.

Mutant has the exact right idea for setting up your speech: Tell us what you are going to tell us, tell us, then tell us what you told us. It's really that simple. Hold our hand throughout your speech- this means making sure everything you say reinforces your main two or three points rather than losing us on pointless tangents or information you may think is interesting, but doesn't actually help achieve the main goal of why you are presenting this material.

I'm assuming the people will be at your presentation because they have a personal or professional interest in your topic? Thus, you already have a more receptive audience than if they are forced to be there by management or some other outside force. To keep the audience on your side, make your presentation all about them. Connect every point back to the people sitting before you. Why should they care about what you are saying? How does it benefit them? For every main point you have, you should be able to answer the question "So what?"

"Recycling is better for the environment and we should all do it" is an alright statement, but the better one would be: "Recycling is better for the environment, true, but even more important is that it is better for you. If every person in this auditorium recycled their morning paper we would would be preventing 40 gallons of bleaching chemicals from being dumped into our local waterways every week. These chemicals have been shown to be carcinogenic and are seeping into our drinking water. By recycling your morning paper, you can help reduce the number of toxins in your drinking water that are making you and your family sick."

Answering this "So what?" question for your audience is what keeps them interested and engaged, rather than the visual aids you feel you may be lacking.

You can also, of course, get creative with your language and use your words to paint the pictures your presentation lacks. Instead of talking about a desert, where you might just show a picture of a desert, describe the desert to us. Instead of dry and sandy, is it a desolate plain where the only sound is the sand beating against the weather-worn black rocks? Or a wasteland? Or an arid ocean?

So to recap:
-Have a preview (Today I'm going to tell you about X, Y, and Z. Let's first look to X.)
-Have clear, concise main points (in this case, X, Y and Z)
-Answer your audience's "So what?" question, tell them why they should care
-Make up for your lack of visual aids by using a more descriptive speaking style
-Have a clear review (And so, after this presentation you should know more about X, Y and Z.)

Oh, uh, and do your handouts after the presentation. We audience members tend to get distracted by shiny things, handouts and sudoku.
posted by Bibliogeek at 1:20 AM on July 27, 2008

And, yes, good luck, you'll do great! Public speaking can be fun- most audiences really are pulling for you to succeed!
posted by Bibliogeek at 1:22 AM on July 27, 2008

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