The ABA Journal has published my latest monthly legal technology column. It’s called “Bite the Bullet Point” and deals with the growing problem of poor use of PowerPoint slides that drains all of the energy out of many presentations I see today, especially those by lawyers.

As I say in the column, “The biggest problem I see is that people have moved the focus from the speech and the speaker to the slides.”

Or, as I also say: “[M]ost complaints about PowerPoint are like blaming modern hammers for poorly built houses. It’s not the tool, but how the user uses the tool.”

Everywhere I turn lately, I see references to “death by PowerPoint” and similar harsh critiques of the use of technology in presentations today. There’s no question that most “standard” presentations these days bury you in bullet points and boredom. Worse yet, after seeing all the slides and hearing the talk, you often don’t know what the main conclusion is, what should matter to you, and, most important, what you should do next.

If you’ve read this blog or my articles, including my ABA Journal column, over the years, you’ll notice that focusing on using technologies as appropriate tools is a recurring theme of mine. As tempting as it might be to want the “new shiny thing,” you’ll want to always keep in mind that technology is a tool and you should always keep in mind the ways a new technology can help you do what you actually want to accomplish.

Think about the oft-cited example that vendors want to sell you a drill, but what you want to buy is the holes you need to get the job accomplished. The drill is just the vehicle that gets you to the holes.

That’s the background for the new column – my concern that the focus for presentations has turned to slides, PowerPoint (or Keynote), video, audio, design and transitions, and away from educating, persuading and inspiring.

However, I’ll stress that I’m not a PowerPoint opponent. When it’s used correctly, it can definitely help you educate, persuade and inspire. If you don’t think that’s the case, you haven’t seen someone use PowerPoint really well in service of their message.

In the new column:

I run through a list of some of the things that bother me about how many people use PowerPoint in presentations these days. I’ll note that it’s a 650-word column, so I couldn’t fit everything in there, but you’ll get the idea.

More important, I give six of my best suggestions to help you break out of today’s PowerPoint and presentation traps:

1. Ask the question: Are slides even needed?

2. Remember that slides must serve the presentation, and not vice versa.

3. Keep the focus on the presenter and presentation, not the slides.

4. Don’t make slides do double duty. A huge problem I often see is using the same slides for the presentation and the handout.

5. Details matter. At a minimum, view your slides on the screen from the back of the room before you speak. I hate it when the speaker knows a slide can’t be read and apologizes out loud for it. Fix it; don’t apologize.

6. Find new role models. I’m a huge fan of Cliff Atkinson and his influential book on presentations called Beyond Bullet Points. His approach to slides is very visual, with minimal text and no bullets. He emphasizes the importance of theme, structure and story. Spend some time watching TED Talks videos and videos of other great presenters.

I’d definitely like to hear your reactions to this article and to the topic. I actually wrote it several months ago and when I re-read it, it really seemed to reflect the theme of practical and effective use of technology to help you with what you do everyday that’s been my goal with the ABA Journal tech column over the years. Let me know if the column works that way for you.

If I would have had a few more words for the column, I might have added a seventh point about hard work and rehearsal (although it’s alluded to in the column). As I mentioned earlier, I’m not anti-PowerPoint. In fact, I’ve always liked it. What I like, though, is the way it makes some aspects of preparing a presentation easier and frees you up to spend more time and effort on your message, your delivery and your audience. As they say, you can work smarter, not harder, and focus your effort on what matters most.

Check out the article here.

[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (]

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