Most people have had to sit through a few terrible PowerPoint presentations. One of the fundamental errors that leads to confusing or dull slide decks lies in how the presenter thinks about the slides themselves.
Communications coach and chief executive of The Vivid Method for Public Speaking, Cam Barber, says it’s important to understand that the speaker makes the presentation, and the slides are there as support.
“Too often PowerPoint is seen as the master,” Barber says.
“We stand on a spot next to the screen, hardly moving… reading. It can seem that if the slide didn’t appear, the speaker wouldn’t have a clue what to say.”
He says people often refer to their slide deck as “the presentation” and many speakers seem to be surprised by the end of their own talk.
“The final slide comes up and the speaker says, ‘Oh, um, I guess that’s it. So, um… any questions?’,” he says.
Barber says it’s vital to be in control of your speech and visual support. One way to do this is by using the ‘B’ key on your keyboard during PowerPoint presentations, which blacks out the screen.
“I’m constantly amazed at how few people even know about the “B” key function. Only 10% of business presenters use the blank screen function,” Barber says.
To return to your presentation, you simply press the key again. Most remotes have a button for this function.
Here are 10 benefits Barber says you’ll discover by pressing the “B” key next time you’re presenting.
1. It changes the relationship you have with PowerPoint
Knowing you have the power to blank the screen helps you stop using presentation software as a crutch. The simple act of switching your slides on and off can change your whole mindset about a presentation. You choose to have it on – or off.
2. It helps you start thinking more creatively
Do I need a slide here? Will it help my audience understand? Or should I just tell a story? You might move to a whiteboard or flipchart to write a key word or draw a wonky diagram (wonky diagrams can be very engaging).
3. You look more impressive
Most speakers look uncertain about the technology, such as the remote control, and attempt to navigate through slides. When you hit the “B” key and you know that you have control over the technology it changes the entire experience for both you and your audience.
4. You redirect attention to yourself
Some people call it the “look at me” key. With nothing on the screen, your audience automatically turns their attention to you. Each time the screen goes on or off, people are drawn to the stage. The human mind can’t resist the start or the end of something.
5. It makes it easier for your audience to digest information
The on and off operation helps break down your information into chunks, making it easier for audiences to focus, compared to one, long unbroken presentation.
6. It changes the mood of the room. Dramatically
The audience gets variation and emphasis, which keeps energy levels up. You can fall asleep while the TV is on, but as soon as someone turns it off, you wake up.
7. It gives you more flexibility
When you want to go off topic or step away from planned material. It will help you control the impromptu discussion without distraction. If there are questions, you can blank the screen and focus on the query. When the the audience sees you engage thoughtfully with one person, they feel closer to you too.
8. It creates a hushed silence
Fantastic if you want to deliver a critical or essential point.
9. It improves the effect of stories and examples
Or when you show an object, prop, handout or product. It’s fine to use slides to help stay structured and on track. Then you blank the screen and say “let me tell you a story that illustrates this point”. You finish the story, bring the slides back, and continue.
10. It is the perfect way to end with impact
Hit the “B” key. Pause, and deliver your take home message. Boom!