Public Speaking — Without PowerPoint

PM Commentary by Stacy Goff.
The title of this article is an observation I’ve made, about speakers and trainers who depend too much on PowerPoint slides. And, in my past, I am also an offender. 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.

This article acknowledges the challenges involved in reducing OPD, Overwhelming PowerPoint Dependency, in public presentations. By the way, this is not a diatribe against PowerPoint. Used correctly, it remains a very useful tool. But this year I had three occasions where I could not use PowerPoint and its projected images. These are the times I had to Speak –Without PowerPoint. They are the occasions that 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

I participated in IPMA-USA co-founder and past President Lew Ireland’s funeral last Spring. John Colville and I attended. It was clear that Lew’s neighbors, friends had little idea of the massive contributions Lew made, over a 30+ year period. I believe that Lew’s greatest impact is in the improvements he made, to the practice of professional project management. So I 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. Then I read those testimonies 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 popular books on speaking. 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! Many people came up afterwards, mentioned how much they appreciated hearing all Lew’s achievements. They had been unknown to them. Mission accomplished! And without PowerPoint!

Helsinki PMAF Congress

In my November and December articles (2013) I discussed our Dinner Speech at the November PMAF Congress. Project Management Association Finland puts on some of the best major events in project management. One reason for their success is the scripting and control exerted by the organizer, Jyry Louhisto and PMAF president Heikki Lonka.

I found out that Jyry wanted me to cover six major and complex topics on his agenda, with around 250 Dinner Meeting attendees. This presentation was to be around 15 minutes; my first reaction was, “No way!” And then Jyry said, 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. I unobtrusively glanced at the cards to maintain content and pace. And, the cards were also 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 audience that knew only the Jim Goff of the last 25 years, the multiple aspects of Dad’s 89 years. I spoke of my Dad’s contributions to family, industry, community, and our country. Of course, Lew’s index cards (from my prior post) were again the key. And my two earlier experiences allowed the stories to flow in a free and easy dialogue–and obviously, again, 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 to 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 speak, at any venue, oand 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. This second part is the one that is most-often missed, by not-yet-great, speakers.

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–assisted delivery. Of course, with my new insights, I am rather enjoying Speaking — Without PowerPoint!

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