Monday, February 20, 2006


Let me say that I love PowerPoint. I developed and ran training in the use of this software for many years. I also developed and ran public speaking/presentation training for 17 years. However, I believe there are many times when a slideshow is an unnecessary distraction. Guy Kawasaki's post on the matter is a good start, but I'd like to add a few points of my own:

Business is about relationships between people. PowerPoint is not people. The speaker is the main attraction. The audience should be focused on the you. The PowerPoint presentation should support you. Do not turn a human being into a voice-over for a slideshow.

Eye contact
Focus your attention on your audience, not your slides. The slides are there for the benefit of the audience - they are not your script. If you need help remembering what to say, use cards. A brief glance to ensure that the correct slide is displayed is all that should be needed. This goes back to the issue of people again.

Text should be used minimally in a PowerPoint presentation. If I had my way, bullet point slides would be banned. People think in pictures, not words. You would be better off using a representative graphic to provide the audience with a mental hook on which to hang the words you speak. However, if you must use text, ask yourself: what do you want your audience to do with it? If you want them to read it, shut up and let them do so. However, this places the presentation centre stage, and you will need to reclaim that spot. If you insist on using text, do not under any circumstances read it to your audience. If they can't read themelves, your text is a waste of time. If they can, your reading is a patronising insult.

Avoid tables of figures - they don't come over well on a slide. If possible, replace them with a chart which is visual and instantly interpretable. If you must use figures, it is better to insert a hyperlink to a spreadsheet, on which you can adjust the zoom, making the figures more legible. Spend as little time as possible on the spreadsheet, before returning to the PowerPoint.

Blank screen
It isn't necessary to have a slide to cover every single point. Some issues are best related anecdotally, as if the point has just occured to you, with no supporting visual aids. In these cases, use the B for a black screen or a W for a white screen. This ensures that the focus is on you, and saves latecomers from trying to figure out the relationship between the slide and what you're saying.

I could go on and on - this is a real soapbox issue for me. Whatever it takes, "Death by PowerPoint" is to be avoided - even if it means having no slideshow at all.

One of the best received presentations I attended resulted from the speaker forgetting to save his presentation to his hard drive and finding the link on the desktop broken at the last minute. He winged it, made eye contact with the audience and engaged them as a person talking to real people. The worst, by contrast, took place in a darkened room, with the speaker off in the corner, centre stage dominated by a huge plasma screen. Slide after slide of bullet points came and went until I couldn't concentrate any more, in spite of having a driving interest in the subject. I wanted to chat to the speaker afterwards, but couldn't identify him, not having had a good enough look at him before the house lights went down.

Of course, Guy has looked at this matter from a business perspective, and I've expanded on that. I understand that teachers have different objectives. However, in 17 years in the classroom, I never used PowerPoint once in training other than when I was teaching on the software itself.

Let me say again: I love PowerPoint. I love chocolate even more, but I don't eat it with every dish and at every meal.


Lee Kraus said...


I eat chocolate at (or at least after) almost every meal. And I use PowerPoint too much. ;)

Anonymous said...

Sigh... there's no helping some ;-}