Belt and suspensers ? By Paul Williatte - Professor of Oratory Art @KEDGE Business School & Director of the Bordeaux School of Oratory Art, Professor of Speak in Public in KEDGE Global Executive MBA

Today, more than 500 million presentations with visual aids take place every year. More than a million presentations per day, and by the time you start yawning, more than 10 presentations have already started somewhere in the world... and therefore almost as many opportunities to be firmly bored while waiting for the time of the questions/answers (often the only one that is really alive)... or the cocktail party!

The excessive use of "Powerpoint" slides is a growing evil, in companies as well as in schools, in the army or in associations. It seems that we can no longer say anything without immediately arming ourselves with visual aids. Would you make a wedding proposal with a Powerpoint? We throw ourselves on our crutches when we can walk very well without them, but maybe have we forgotten...

Indeed, isn’t the main issue “the ease”, in which many French companies (but not only) executives dive into, when it comes to making a professional presentation, internal or external, in front of their colleagues or partners ... namely to follow the "killing method", consisting in 3 steps:

  1. before even thinking about what you want to say, open your computer 
  2. put into a PowerPoint just about everything you know about the subject
  3. start your presentation with the famous sentence "Hello, I'm going to present a few slides to give you an update on... such and such a subject...".

The question that arises then, and that you can ask yourself should you feel concerned with the topic, is the following: Have you really thought about what you wanted to say? Would you be able to summarize your presentation in one strong message? And your main message in one sentence (even a long one)? Would you be able to pass the elevator test, i.e. to convey the essence of your presentation during an elevator ride, even if it takes many floors?

Or do you need to detail (or read!) every single slide to feel like you've done your job? You may hear "I've said it all" sometimes, to which you can easily retort, on the audience side, "yes, but we haven't heard anything", because to say everything during a presentation is to say nothing at all. 

Clearly, what is at stake here is no less than the ability and will to address clear messages about an issue... if one has this clear vision of the co called issue... 
But how can one blame executives under permanent tension caught between a lack of time and the fear of a lack of results? How can one blame executives coming, for most of them, from an educational system constantly inviting them to "say everything" in order to be well noted? How can one blame executives for doing what everyone else does?

It's a shame, though, considering how much time is spent putting together these slides and how little impact they have on the audience. 
Today who reads the printed slide decks handed out at the end of a meeting? Who listens attentively to a speaker reading slides? How much confidence does a speaker reading slides develop with his audience?

So, what can be done? 

We propose a 3-step method within the KEDGE Global Executive MBA:

  1. CLARIFY: Clarify what you want to convey. Take the time to think about it (faster than "PowerPoint stuffing”, guaranteed!). In short, before each presentation, be clear about the points you are getting to. A sailor in a race knows his port of arrival, and it is not negotiable.
  2. IMPROVE: Try to be a good enough speaker to find the most appropriate comments and arguments during the presentation, but not by reading them. You will find the right route to deliver your message in relation to your audience, just as a sailor will negotiate with the natural elements (winds, tides, currents, etc.) the best route to take him/her to the right port. S/he may have thought about it beforehand but needs to improvise in the action.
  3. AVOID REDUNDANCY: Only use slides that are key to support your speech and your demonstration. A golden rule: avoid redundancy between what you are going to say and what you are going to put on your slides. An actor does not go on stage with his text in his hand, or with his text scrolling behind him like a wallpaper.

You learn much from Westerns. There is a scene in "Once upon a time in the West" where a poor fellow is executed by Frank, the big bad, played by Henry Fonda.  This one, exasperated by his interlocutor, shoots him two first bullets, one in each of his suspenders, and a third one in the belt of the unhappy man. The man lying on the ground, hears Franck pronounce as a funeral oration, this fateful sentence: "I always distrusted people who wear suspenders and belt; how to trust such people?” In essence, he is right.  It is up to us to develop our speaking technique so that we can do without these tools that encumber us.

Didn't Henry David Thoreau say, more than a century ago: "Let's not become the tools of our tools". 
To the best of our knowledge, goodbye!