Is PowerPoint your Teleprompter?

Back in the late 1980’s, I taught collegiate public speaking courses. After the initial diagnostic speech to help students get their feet wet and warm-up in front of peers, we progressed to graded speeches. Back then, the first graded speech was the Visual Aid Speech. Because laptops, tablets, and presentation software like PowerPoint were not accessible at that time, supplementary visuals were often posters, props, and other tangible items.

Most students set their posters on a table tripod and turned them backwards or covered them up until it was time to illustrate a point in their speech. When the speaker displayed their visual, it was intended to provide a visual depiction of what the speaker was already delivering verbally.

It is important to note that posters back then were visual, with only a few minimal words, if any words at all. For example, a brief title might be written at the top of the poster or key words visible in a chart legend. However, the “visual aid” poster always displayed a visual (an image, a drawing, a photograph, a chart, a graph)–and never, never–text only.

Over 25 years ago, it would have been ludicrous for a student speaker to reveal a poster while discussing a main point, only to reveal a poster filled with text of everything they were saying!

Talk about redundancy.

However, a poster filled with text would have been unbelievably familiar, because it would have resembled the speaker’s own speaker notecards!

Now imagine that. Imagine a speaker projecting their own private notecards to the audience, which were intended to be notes that remind the speaker what to say.

That would have been ridiculous.

Now flash forward to today where the norm has evolved to displaying heavy text and bulleted list after bulleted list on “visual aids” or presentation slides.  Speakers are basically using presentations slides to remind them of what to say, and as a result, we are overloading our audience with visual repetition and verbal and visual competition. Slides populated heavily with text and words are not doing our audience any favors to illustrate depictive content. In other words, speaker notes are meant for the speaker, not to be projected in front of an audience, and clarifying visuals are meant to serve the audience, not the speaker.

So how did PowerPoint teleprompting evolve?

With the advent of presentation software which allowed us to create text and bullet points with great ease, we were convincingly smitten. In truth though, shouldn’t technology be there to serve our purposes, goals, and desired end outcomes, not the other way around?

In their purest essence, visuals are for your audience. Speakers and presenters should use them to illustrate, clarify, depict, and support the verbal content being presented.

And visuals . . . should be visual, not our teleprompter.

The next logical question, then, might be “how can I remember what I’m supposed to say?” Thankfully, there are some options available.

Hand-held tablets can provide us with speaker note guidance while presenting, some laptops have displayed note sections you can reference, rehearsal and familiarity with your content can help you avoid prompts altogether, paper notes and notecards can still remind you of main points and supporting points so you can speak extemporaneously, smart phones can remind you of key main points as a reference, and of course, seeing “a visual” on your visuals will likely remind you of what to say next as well . . .

. . .  just without all that teleprompting text!

What say you?