A Death By PowerPoint Experience

Microsoft PowerPoint was born in 1990 (the same year as me as it happens!) and today an estimated 350 PowerPoint presentations are given each second across the globe. PowerPoint’s share of the presentation software market remains a healthy 95 percent, leaving relative newcomers Apple Keynote, Google Presentation, Prezi, and SlideRocket in the shade, according to a study by Meinald Thielsch.


What is PowerPoint?

Presentations using PowerPoint software consist of a number of individual pages or “slides”. The “slide” analogy is a reference to the slide projector. Slides may contain text, graphics, sound, movies, and other objects, which may be arranged freely. The presentation can be printed, displayed live on a computer, or navigated through at the command of the presenter.

It all sounds great! However there is one phenomenon rapidly unfolding with PowerPoint and it’s not a good one. In fact it is probably one of the biggest problems* facing public speaking, in business, in education and in public life today.

* of course, it is not the program that is the problem but the *poor use* of the program.

Introducing Death by Powerpoint

Death by PowerPoint is a phenomenon caused by the poor use of said visual aid. Key contributors to death by PowerPoint include confusing graphics, slides with too much text, bad clip art and tiny font and presenters whose idea of a good presentation is to read the content of their slides aloud to their audience. These days it’s getting harder and harder to avoid death by PowerPoint in some form!

PowerPointWhy is it a Problem?

Communication experts say that PowerPoint has gone from being a presentation aid to a dependency. If someone has a presentation due tomorrow the tendency is to just start dumping information onto slides and then wing the talk-to-people part. The resulting presentation has no core message, no central theme, no planning and no rehearsal. As such all the important steps outlined in How To Prepare A Speech are missed.

PowerPoint can undoubtedly be a useful presentation tool. But a presenter who is too reliant on a slide deck can quickly put his or her audience to sleep.

When presenters use PowerPoint as a script or document of text, it becomes a barrier between them and the audience, not an aid – a barrier to connection, interaction and engagement.


The Solution

Death by PowerPoint can be avoided if a speaker uses the technology as a visual aid to enhance what is being said, instead of relying on the technology to serve as the focus of the presentation. In fact top presentation gurus will almost always advocate judiciously limiting the role of PowerPoint. Let’s hear more from Meinald Thielsch:

The best speakers at any corporate level today grip an audience by telling a story and showing some slides to support that.

Starting a presentation with a story in mind also implies that you’re making a special effort to keep the audience involved.

Jonah Sachs, author of Winning the Story Wars, says that storytelling is about building a message using a powerful story line with a conflict and a resolution.

A story takes all the senseless data that the world provides and turns it into something meaningful.

Stand Out From The Crowd

For presenters who want to be remembered, how can you deliver without a PowerPoint, or use it in a very limited or unusual way?

Here a 3 simple ways to mix things up and think differently about slides:

  1. Avoid stock templates: Stay clear of standard background templates that come with PowerPoint. Instead, use a custom template to make your presentation look different
  2. Dump the text: The presentation should not be a reading report. Limit text
  3. Use pictures and graphs: A picture paints a thousand words!

The Choice is Yours!

Death by PowerPoint is an experience that an experienced speaker will never permit. With a little preparation and persistence, you too can avoid the trap.

Since this post first appeared on the blog I’ve gone on to create a two part series on how to design powerful visual aids. Get started with part 1 here. The only way is up!