Freeing Yourself From the PowerPoint Security Blanket

When you think meetings, do you think PowerPoint slides? I sure do. Every meeting I'm in these days (offline and online) is a lovely compendium of slides and the thing that gets really monotonous is that the person who speaks forgets how good of a speaker he or she usually is and just starts reading off the PowerPoint slides. Yawn.

Here's a few tips to get out from under your PowerPoint crutch:

1. Tell good stories. Any human storyteller with an ounce of talent is a 100 percent improvement over rehashed slides or statistics. A story gets them every time. If you want to use slides, get one with a picture that represents the story you want to tell. When talking about how to sell ice cream, use ice cream as the visual. Totally more interesting. And then you'll get a run on the fro-yo machine in the break room.

2. Try to consider whether or not you'll even need slides for your speech. A nicely designed slide show can really show you off (lots of slides needed for all your accreditations and accomplishments, sure), but a slide for every single thing you say can quickly overpower your presence in the room and become the focal point of your presentation. Can you just skip it during your next speech? Wouldn't it be nice not to have to compete with a machine for your audience's attention?

3. A slide of vapid statistics really has no meaning. If you want to report those statistics, why not put them into context. "This year we'll see a 67% growth in our international division." That's an easy thing for attendees to jot down. Showing a screen full of numbers requires someone to use a calculator to get to that same 67% statistic and makes people crazy and thus need way too much caffeine.

4. Create yourself a PowerPoint presentation on paper, but then use it only to guide you as you speak. For the really important points when you must have a slide, insert a highlighted stage direction to yourself-"Put up slide #5 now"-and then you'll only be punctuating your speech with those wonderful tidbits that attendees can use as takeaways, which they will. At other times, when there should not be a slide, make sure you use the function key to darken the screen, keeping the audience attention right where it should be-on you.

5. Remember Seth Godin's rule of thumb: no more than six words on a slide. If you think Seth's advice is crazy, check out Seth's astute guide to PowerPoint here. If you're still not convinced, think back to the best presentation you ever sat through and try to copy your next presentation to match. I bet it was succinct and sparse. Right?

Follow even one of these rules and you'll be giving better presentations than most corporations in America. Don't your employees and clients deserve that from you?