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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

When to NOT Use PowerPoint

I love visual presentations. Mostly I love them because they offer a much better chance that the audience will retain what has been said. A little effort on the visual side of communication can help cement a message far more effectively than simply speaking alone.

But is PowerPoint (or a similar slide program) the best way to communicate?

That's a great question. It's clear that using visuals that connect with your message in a meaningful way adds to the overall retention and comprehension of your message. It's also clear that when you simply recite words printed on a slide that actually reduces the retention and comprehension of the message (in that case you'd be better off just letting people read for themselves).

But what is less clears is which types of visuals give the strongest boost to retention and comprehension.

Are you ready for this?

It's a whiteboard.

Not slides with bullet points. Not slides with fancy pictures. A simple whiteboard.

Now, not all presentations are conducive to using a whiteboard, but when you can you should probably choose it over a PowerPoint presentation.

According to a recent study, the use of whiteboard illustrations in a presentation were more memorable and more persuasive than either standard PowerPoint presentations or the type of presentation championed by Garr Reynolds in is book Presentation Zen

There are a few things to note about the whiteboard presentation efficacy.

First, the visuals are still key. It's less about writing out what you're saying and more about creating a visual framework for people to use in encoding what you're saying. Draw pictures, relate terms visually, call out what is most important.

Second, the engagement with the message is, in part, due to the perceived participation of the audience in the creation of the presentation. Slides are, of necessity, static, while the whiteboard represents a dynamic space where anything can happen. The audience doesn't know that you have pre-determined what will go on the whiteboard so it feels like they are watching and helping to create the visuals.

Finally, you must rehearse your whiteboard presentation as much, if not more, as your presentation. Static visuals, like through PowerPoint, are easier to use. Giving a whiteboard based presentation takes effort, creativity, fluidity, and a full command of your topic so that you aren't distracted by the details of drawing on the whiteboard in the middle of giving a presentation.

Here are a few tips:

  • Pre-draw your examples to make sure they work. 
  • Use different color pens to indicate topical ideas (e.g. red is always for action, blue is for concepts, black is for side notes). 
  • Create meaning through space. So if you want to show that one idea is central to your theme, put it in the middle of the board and show how all the other ideas radiate out from it. 
  • Less is more. Just as with PowerPoint presentations, don't try to do too much on the whiteboard. Write in large letters so people in the back can easily see. Only put the key concepts on the board. 
  • Don't turn your back to the audience. This seems difficult and it takes some effort to learn to write with your body at a 90-degree angle to the board, but it's important to keep your audience engaged with you. 
  • Move out of the way when you're not writing. Give the whole audience a chance to see the board and to incorporate what you're saying with what they're seeing. 
  • Leave room for spontaneity. One of the best things about the whiteboard is that you can adjust it on the fly based on your audience's reaction to what you've been saying. 
Do you use a whiteboard for any of your presentations? How has it helped you? What would you add to this article?