When technology fails, do you fail with It?

In our contemporary culture’s race to apply the very latest in digital technology, I’m sometimes reminded that the “less is more” credo applies not only to the art of de-cluttering our living spaces (à la Marie Kondo), but also to the way we share our knowledge.

In recent months I’ve witnessed professional speakers endure a fair share of technology failures—a hard drive crash, failed connectivity with a Mac, a failing Android battery, and so on.

While the audiences were forgiving, many of us winced at the anxiety and shame of the presenters involved and thought they would have done well simply to deliver their talks from memory and/or from their notes (if they had any).

As the admissions director at Saskatoon’s Praxis School of Entrepreneurship, Elaine Mantyka, recently reminded me, we needn’t be luddites for thinking that we can give short, informative talks (e.g. 20 mins) without PowerPoint (PPT).

In fact, self-employed consultants can offer better “freebie” talks, designed to whet others’ appetites and thereby to introduce their services, if they sidestep all of the technology available. Speak vividly and with a core two to three points (and not more), and your audience will thank you for it! Long, text-ridden slides, flashy graphics and enhanced sound distract the listener and dilute the impression that the speaker wants to make.

West Coast writer Daphne Gray-Grant gives speeches in which she says she uses “no technology. Zip. Zilch. Nada,” which makes her ideas pop out. She says that she surprises some listeners that she is the “crazy lady who doesn’t use PPT.” She frees herself from carrying around a laptop, loaded with slides, worrying about the length of her extension cords, the risk of power failure and so on . . .

Low-tech (say, 15 to 20 minute) presentations provide opportunities to focus on the message and can engage the audience with highly relevant Q&As and even with pencil-and-paper, experiential exercises. The audience to such talks will likely be more alert than if they were sedated by run-of-the-mill, text-laden PPT slides that only dump data on the viewer.

(Insert YAWN!)

As someone who has given professional talks in academia and in business and who has written copy for professional speakers, I know that successful speaking engagements allow you to place your knowledge at the centre of your talk (e.g. the most successful TED Talks do this). Minimize your reliance on the crutch of technology and your audience will remember better what you’ve shared.

And that’ll be far better than if you raced through your 10 to 15 slides with competing insights and little, if any, coherence.

And now it’s your turn: When you last gave a professional speech, did you use PPT? And do you find PPT ineffective as a program for organizing your ideas? Please write in on my “contact” page; I’d be delighted to hear from you.