What part of "Death by PowerPoint" do our military leaders fail to understand? That phrase does not imply that the audience is being bored to death. That phrase states that by using PowerPoint, our military leaders are are killing audiences.
Take the convention I attended recently. I believe in the power of seeing people face to face. So I got up at 5 a.m. in order to make it downtown through traffic. I had to pay a babysitter $100 to come that early. I couldn’t find parking near the venue, so I hiked nearly a mile to the event. And I was excited about it.
At the family forum, a military spouse spoke lyrically about depression. A male spouse charmed the entire audience with his plea, “Friends, I do not want to play Bunco.”
Then we sat through four PowerPoint presentations by Army generals and other military experts. All four read from their slides. One of the slides actually labored through the idea that military families have to go through separations, deployments and PCS moves. I could smell an intern at work.
While I recognize that PowerPoint is the military way of doing things, I was dying to jump up and point out to each speaker: THIS AUDIENCE DOES NOT WORK FOR YOU.
I did not do that. I hope you appreciate my restraint. That’s because I do not blame these experts. Instead, I think we as a culture have fallen into the habit of thinking of PowerPoint as the way we demonstrate preparation and expertise.
PowerPoint doesn’t work that way. PowerPoint will put your eye out. Or make you wish you could put your eye out so that you could cover your face with a Kleenex and leave.
Is it any wonder that people don’t want to attend live events anymore? We have taught them not to trust us by boring them out of their minds. So here are my tips for honoring the presence of an audience by preparing in a whole new way:
1. Remember that we are here. In person.
Technology and the people who know how to use it are so amazing that nearly every event has live streaming today. Live streaming is your competition. People come in person to events not just to hear what you have to say, but to see you and to be seen by you. Take a note from Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno or Army Reserve Chief Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Talley. Both men connected with audience members. That is a gift, surely. It is also a skill that can be learned. Take notes.
2. If we can Google it, don’t say it.
Military audiences are smart. They are perfectly capable of accessing all 3,500 DoD-approved military websites. So say something new. Say something insightful or controversial. Say something that cannot be Googled. Yet.
3. Feel something.
At the convention, a group of middle school and high school Backpack Journalists came in to stand in front of the group and talk about what they had learned. Two of the girls cried because they were so nervous. The Backpack Journalists received a standing ovation. People come to events in person because they want to feel something. They go to see Oprah and Tony Robbins and retired Gen. Colin Powell in person because those speakers excite and motivate their audiences. We don’t expect that kind of verve from military speakers per se. But we do expect you to be fully present with us -- and not reading to us.
4. Don’t fear the Reaper.
Lots of people attend events in person because they need to speak truth to power. Some of these people are incredibly brave. Some of these people are major innovators. Some of these people ought to come dressed as the Reaper (or at least as members of Blue Oyster Cult) because they are kooks. Instead of the careful selection of audience questions from index cards, be bold and actually answer questions from the audience. Your risk is low. You will be under a time constraint. You are allowed to say that you don’t actually know the answer to a question. You can deploy your minions to collect the name of an audience member and address them later.
5. Be the Power.
When invited to speak to a military audience be confident enough in the invitation that you do not need to provide a PowerPoint. Our event managers know what they are doing. You are invited to be a speaker because people care what you think, not what you know. This is not a test. It is a conversation. Be part of it. Please. I am begging you.