My first job after graduating from college was in sales. This was in the early 90’s, so it was a few years before I was introduced to PowerPoint presentations… but I eventually succumbed to the siren song and was guilty of crushing the souls of customers and prospects with bulleted PowerPoint decks.
But along the way I started to get the feeling that perhaps bulleted slides were not the most effective way to communicate. And I certainly did attempt to at least lessen the blunt force trauma by keeping the words on my slides to a minimum.
And while I couldn’t require a reduction of bulleted slides from other presenters, I could at least acknowledge their mastery of the multiplying of words on their slides.
To cope, I came up with a little game to get me through their presentations. Instead of being irritated when presented with seemingly countless words on a screen I began to celebrate the effort by counting the number of words people were able to pack onto a single slide.
Not long after I began this endeavor I was presented with a slide containing 119 words! While thrilled at the record, I was also disappointed, thinking that it would stand for a long time.
But imagine my excitement when only two slides later 128 words appeared on a single slide. Almost a year passed before the record was broken, but it was well worth the wait. At 161 words I was certain that word count would stand the test of time…but to date 193 words is the heavyweight champion.
Think about that for a second. One hundred ninety-three words on a single slide. Can you even imagine a scenario where that might make sense?
Do you realize that the 193 words on that slide is only 71 words shorter than the Gettysburg Address? Do you want to know the difference between the two?
Like most people, I can remember who delivered the Gettysburg Address. As a matter of fact, most people can even recite the first few words for you.
It’s an absolutely beautiful speech. At 264 words, it took just over two minutes to deliver. What most people don’t know is that Abraham Lincoln wasn’t the only speaker that day at Gettysburg. He wasn’t even the main speaker for the day.
Do you know who was? The primary speaker was the Honorable Edward Everett. His speech came in at over 2 hours long and used 13,607 words.
And no one remembers him.
Why do we believe the same isn’t true for us?
The writer Francois Fenelon said “The more you say, the less people remember. The fewer the words, the greater the profit.” At some level, we all know this to be true.
Think of all the meetings you have attended over the last 30 days. Now write down all of the big ideas or calls to action that you remember from those meetings.
If we’re honest, can we admit that every meeting where we can’t remember the big ideas or the call to action is a complete waste of time?
At Gettysburg Lincoln said, “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here”, and yet we do remember.
We need our audiences to remember the big ideas of our presentations…and yet they are utterly forgettable.
Is it safe to say that we might be doing something wrong?