PowerPoint is a double-edged sword that cuts both ways. Depending on how you use it, PowerPoint can either skillfully clarify or thoroughly confuse your overall message.
When it's used well, PowerPoint is Velcro. Your visuals grab your audience and attach your big ideas to their minds and hearts.
But when it's used poorly, PowerPoint turns into Teflon. Audience attention slides right off into confusion, frustration, and apathy. Blackberrys appear. Work comes out of briefcases. Mentally, your audience has walked out on you. The ones in the back are actually out the door.
And here's the worst-case scenario. PowerPoint, poorly used, ticks off audiences. They say, "Why is this jerk wasting my time?" You know this is true. You've said it yourself when you've been in a tortured-by-PowerPoint audience.
So what's the difference between PowerPoint that's Velcro or Teflon? To me, it comes down to one word: synchronicity. Synchronicity happens when related ideas reinforce each other to produce a "1+1 = 3" effect.
Here’s how synchronicity turns PowerPoint into Velcro. When your spoken words and your visual images are in sync, your audience is right with you. They're taking two separate sets of content, one in verbal form and the other in visual form, and weaving them together into a fabric of ideas. They are creating meaning for themselves. Very satisfying.
But PowerPoint turns into Teflon when your spoken words and visual images are out of sync. In the beginning, your audience starts working hard to find synchronicity. They bounce back and forth between what you're saying and what's on the screen. When they can’t find synchronicity, they face two choices.
Choice #1: Audience members who aren't particularly motivated by your message (and that's the largest percentage) just tune out everything.
Choice #2: Audience members who are really eager to understand what you're saying (almost always a small percentage) block out either the verbal or visual channel. They listen to you and ignore the screen. Or they watch the screen and ignore you.
As a speaker, when Choices #1 and #2 kick in, you are pushing a big rock up a steep hill.
Here's an example of how out-of-sync words and images confuse an audience. Let's say you're watching, for the first time, the iconic scene near the end of Casablanca. Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman are truly in love. But bigger circumstances force them to say goodbye for the final time. In their last moments together, Bergman's eyes fill with tears. Bogey puts his hand on her chin and raises her face to meet his as he says that great line, "Here's looking at you, kid."
You've watch the whole movie to get to this point. But just as this scene starts, the soundtrack slips out of sync with the image by three seconds. You see lips moving and facial expressions. And you hear words. But the whole thing isn't making sense. You're struggling, on a very basic level, just to understand what's happening. Lack of synchronicity is shredding the fabric of meaning.
As a speaker, remember that synchronicity is absolutely crucial to your success. Your audience needs synchronicity to weave together the fabric of meaning that you want to leave them with. You can have lots of visuals -- or just a few. They can be really well designed -- or just workmanlike. But if your words and visuals are not in sync in the minds of your audience, they're not getting it.
PowerPoint can be a potent tool that pole vaults your audience into really understanding and believing your message. Or it can be an anvil dropped on their toes -- and ultimately on your reputation as a presenter. The difference comes down to a matter of timing.