Microsoft just fixed PowerPoint: You’re going to love Presenter Coach

PowerPoint was one of the worst applications ever created, but Microsoft has finally fixed it. Once new features roll out, instead of making you a lousy public speaker, PowerPoint will make you a better one.

Microsoft > PowerPoint [Office 365]

I’ve come to loathe PowerPoint over the years. I once was a competitive speaker and watching people use this product – and the bad habits I’ve developed using it – has been like fingernails on a chalkboard. It has historically been a tool that promoted stupid things, like creating audience-abuse slides that no one could read and presentations where the presenter read the slide to the audience.  People, and I include myself, found it so easy to build presentations they’d wait until the last minute and then get in front of an audience with little or no rehearsal or preparation, resulting in substandard performance.  

But last month, Microsoft unveiled a whole bunch of enhancements, features, and improvements for Office 365, now called Microsoft 365. If you blinked, you may have missed something named Presenter Coach, which could turn PowerPoint into a tool that ensures presentation quality.  These features will roll out over the next several weeks; I can hardly wait.

When I first heard about Presenter Coach, I think I heard Angels sing. Here is why.

Common PowerPoint mistakes

I’d argue a majority of corporate executives never learned how to present in front of an audience – or didn’t listen to their speaking coach. Standard bad practices include making changes to a presentation right up to the last moment, making them (and their company) look inept. More bad moves: reading from a slide, talking in a monotone, or speaking so fast people can’t keep up. (I do this all too often.)

I’ve even watched a cross-section of Microsoft’s own executives make these mistakes, often all of them, in a single presentation. PowerPoint didn’t make you a better speaker, it tended to drive behavior that did the opposite. 

Finally, Microsoft fixed that.

What is Presenter Coach?

This update was kind of an embarrassing fix for me because, as an analyst, I’m supposed to suggest solutions for problems, not just point out issues out. With  PowerPoint, I’ve been outspoken about the problems but not how to fix them.  Looking at what Microsoft has done, I realize I should have figured this out. That said, the fixes are still brilliant. 

It seems obvious in hindsight that the answer was to build in a virtual coach – Presenter Coach – that can help people overcome bad habits PowerPoint helped create.

It will alert you if it hears you reading the slide. If you are like me, this is probably one of the things that perhaps annoyed you most about a PowerPoint presentation. I’m not a child. I can read. I don’t need someone to read out loud something I can understand myself. 

Presenter Coach will also alert you if you talk in a monotone. This practice often happens when people are reading content, but it is tough to stay awake or focus on a speaker with no vocal range. A 15-minute talk can feel like a lifetime, and after an hour, it feels as if you’re being punished for something significant. 

One of my biggest problems when I get in front of an audience, and haven’t been speaking for a while, is that adrenaline kicks in and my speaking speed gets much too fast.  I sound like I’m being paid for how many words I can cram in a minute; I can burn through a 30-minute rehearsed talk in 10 or 15 minutes. 

True story: I once did a talk in Japan while hungover (thanks co-workers), and both spoke in a monotone and fast. I thought the two translators were going to kill me after. PowerPoint will now alert you if you are talking too fast. 

Finally, one of the most annoying things a speaker can do is rely on filler words like “umm” or “ahh.”  You see this a lot on the news. People using these filler words look stupid. Presenter Coach will help train you out of this annoying practice. 

Wrapping Up

Presenter Coach was only one of a host of improvements Microsoft made to Microsoft 365. Others include better blended personal and business calendars (so you don’t get meetings that conflict with your kid’s school events), better connections between Excel and financial institutions so you can better manage your money, and Family Safety features that should help protect our kids.  

But the one that hit me where I live is Presenter Coach for PowerPoint. It’s  just brilliant. And while I’m still surprised I didn’t think of this fix myself, I’m glad that PowerPoint now looks like it might make me a better speaker instead of promoting bad behavior.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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