While I don't think there are any documented cases of people actually experiencing "death by power point," we are all familiar with the experience of being pummeled into unconsciousness by an endless succession of slides dense with data.
And the beauty of the human mind is that even though we have suffered through other's power points, we are perfectly able to deceive ourselves into believing that our succession of slides dense with data is somehow different.
There are two lessons here.
First, in the interests in maintaining a positive self-image, we exaggerate our strengths and minimize our weaknesses. On most self-evaluations, the vast majority of us rate our abilities as above average, in convenient denial of statistical laws.
The antidote is a humble acceptance of the bell curve. Recognizing our limitations enables us to work at getting better. As an added benefit, it's rare that anyone is criticized for being too humble. The same is not the case for arrogance.
Second, most power point presentations are dreadful. Yet we justify the fire hose of data by believing the information is so important that the impossible to swallow blast is a necessary evil.
Having made my living in part by delivering an unconscionable number of presentations over the past three decades has taught me a fundamental principle of human nature. No one is as interested in what you have to say as they are in what they have to say. Studies have shown that an audience's attention level drops dramatically after the first four minutes of a presentation and rises back up only at the end when the presenter finally says "in conclusion."
Perhaps we should seriously consider chopping out the middle, since nobody is listening anyway. The success of any presentation is not what the speaker communicates, but what the audience hears.
The mind is a prediction engine and when the prediction is met, our cognitive processing just continues automatically. When we expect a boring succession of facts and figures, and get one, we do not pay attention to it.
Successful pop icons know this or they wouldn't be successful. Sunglasses made of lit cigarettes and a dress fashioned from slabs of raw meat are not expected, and so grab our attention, as Lady Gaga has demonstrated. There is a limited supply of attention, and our power points compete against Lady Gaga's performances for it.
So that people actually hear what you have to say, consider these guidelines for your next presentation:
- Empathize with your audience, and don't do to them what you wouldn't want done to yourself, particularly when it comes to boredom
- Keep presentations short--no one has ever complained that a presentation was too brief
- Eliminate as many words from your slides as possible--they're more for you than for your audience
- Recognize your obligation to entertain while you add value: no matter how brilliant you are, you still need to amuse if you want to be heard
- Be unexpected: use your slides to grab attention.
You may not be met with a standing ovation, but at the very least you'll avoid those yawns that make you want to consider career options.