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Considering that a large percentage of the population learns visually, I always get annoyed when speakers don’t use power point for their presentations at conferences, or don’t use it properly. Some speakers say that they haven’t mastered it; they should, otherwise they insult their audience, and cut out a large slice of them who find it difficult to learn by listening.

Many years ago I attended meetings held by a volunteer group to improve people’s public speaking abilities. We had to rely on small notes in our hands to jog our memories and keep us on track. Today power point does this for us. We can use the screen to make sure our argument follows a logical sequence and it can also be used to display data, which is difficult to explain orally. It means that we can concentrate on our argument in a more relaxed manner preferably using humour to lighten the learning task for our audience.

My main gripe is with people who put an enormous amount of material on a slide and then continue to talk. Most people find it difficult to listen and look simultaneously and are faced with the dilemma of not knowing which to do. No slide should contain more than 7 lines and even then when it first comes up the speaker should pause to let the audience read it. In my case I use one point at a time bringing them up one after the other. When a point is on the screen (in heading form) I can then talk about it.

Some speakers put extremely complicated tables and charts up and don’t give the audience time to look at them properly. Some of these would take 10 minutes to really understand but by then the speaker has moved on, as well as chattering the whole time.

The problem often begins with the speaker’s material. You should provide your audience with what they want to hear, or what you think  would be of interest to them. Far too many people think it is an opportunity to talk about what interests them, not what the audience needs to, or wants to, hear.

It also amazes me that speakers don’t check their slides beforehand. At the recent conference I attended in Ballina, one of the major speakers who seemed to be regarded as something of a guru, had data on the year when the population aged 65+ would be a quarter of the total population. She had the date 2010 on the screen. Not professional.

There is also a danger in using a non-white screen. Cables, as a friend of mine discovered, can alter the colour. A colour which allowed the text to be read on a laptop may have turned to dark green, for example, so that the audience can’t read it by the time it is on a screen at the venue.

Power point was the major advance in public speaking at the end of the last century. We should make full use of this wonderful tool, and apply the same professional standards to it as we do to the rest of our work.