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Speakers: Slides will get in way

| Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

As Sunday gets closer — the day I'm giving a speech on how to get what you want at any age or stage of life — emails from the event organizers become more frequent.

“What will you need? A screen to show your PowerPoint?” they inquire.

“No PowerPoint,” I write back. “All I need is a lavalier microphone and a podium on the stage. And some water would be nice.”

I've given hundreds of speeches. Whether I was presenting to a giant corporation, nonprofit organization, university or professional association, the event planner seemed almost speechless, even distressed, that I would be delivering my message sans PowerPoint.

Use slides if you're presenting a workshop that covers scores of points.

But for a speech intended to inspire, entertain, influence and leave the audience with a few key points to apply to their lives? Why do you need slides?

You've got the speaker live, making eye contact, and at times interacting.

I can remember showing only one slide during a speech —a photograph of my dog with his ball that supported a point I was making.

I have tried to impart this “give up your PowerPoint and just give a great speech” philosophy to my clients who sometimes ask me to observe a talk they're giving. They'll bring people together, stand up on a stage and talk while they show slides with bullet points, complete sentences, and statistics.

My feedback: “Do you want your audience to listen to you or read the slides? They can't do both. Do you want them to fall asleep or be inspired?”

It's not that PowerPoint presentations are a bad thing. But for many speakers, they are a crutch.

And for the audience, they become a distraction.

Just look at some of the best speakers. In their annual top 10 list of best communicators, Decker Communications named Nelson Mandela as No. 1.

No PowerPoint there.

He was an incredible speaker because, as they point out on their blog, he was genuine and sincere. He made people care.

He was the same man behind the podium as he was one-on-one: himself, always smiling, always likable. Decker Communications cites The New York Times, which said, “He shook every hand as if he was discovering a new friend and maintained a twinkle in his eye that said, ‘This is fun.' ”

Tied with Mandela for first place is Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani 16-year-old who survived an assassination attempt. She is articulate, focused, energetic and inspiring. You can't help but like her. Even without slides.

In third place is Pope Francis, who uses no PowerPoint but focuses on connecting with people. He exudes humble confidence, which as the blog points out: It's how he is.

In fifth place is Blake Mycoskie, founder of Toms, a company that creates shoes based on a casual Argentine design and for every pair sold gives away a pair to an impoverished child. Likeable and down to earth, he uses a few slides in a speech, but they are photographs that support his point.

Consider laying down your PowerPoint. Instead, bring your excitement about your subject, three or four key points and compelling stories to illustrate them.

Write to Andrea Kay in care of USA Today/Gannett, 7950 Jones Branch Drive, McLean, VA 22108. Email: andrea@andreakay.com.

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