Use Your Body Instead of PowerPoint

by Quentin Schultze

I use PowerPoint, but very selectively. My body is more effective. So is yours. Here’s why.

The most potent multimedia technology in the world is the human body, including our voices. We’re wondrously multisensory creatures. No humanly devised communication technology can compete with the body.

The next time you’re at restaurant just watch and listen to those sitting at a table with three or more people. The verbal and nonverbal interchanges are stunning. Smiles. Gestures. Intonations. Non-stop, back and forth, endlessly creative interaction. Bodily imitation. Senses fueled by the taste and smell of the food.

Stage actors learn body movement—to perform as if they could carry the dialogue without uttering a word. They have to master the body because the audience sees everything they do. There is no camera limiting what the audience sees. This is why stage performance is so much more difficult than acting for film and television, where close-ups of the face overshadow the rest of the body. The situation comedy is predicated on facial-reaction shots.

When we stand up in front of an audience our bodies become the visual palette for painting our message. When our voices and bodies are in tune, we can connect powerfully. Personally. Even intimately. Through the magic of empathy and sympathy, the speaker and audience become one. It shouldn’t surprise us that the root word for “communication” is the same as for “community” and “communion.”

For all of its benefits, PowerPoint has the enormous disadvantage of removing our bodies from our messaging. In effect, the screen substitutes for our body. Our voices then carry the burden of personalizing our presentation. We might as well be on the radio.

If you really want to serve audiences, limit your use of PowerPoint to that which you cannot communicate with your body and your voice. Even then, make sure that you are not standing close to the screen so you can redirect the audience to your body when the slide material is not essential to see.

Here’s a great video clip by Clifford Stoll that makes essentially the same point. Enjoy.

— Quin

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