Power Point’s dirty little secret

I’ve blogged often about the abuse of Power Point and other slide software programs – using them as speaker notes, and making them more about words than images.  And of course, the over-use and over-dependence on software instead of just connecting with your audience, person to person.

But there’s a further problem with the software, one that’s even more insidious and destructive to good presentations.  Because slides are created one at a time, they encourage people to think in terms of vertical slices rather than horizontal storytelling.  As such, they promote an ADD approach to presentations – and thinking in general, since so much of organizational life and intellectual capital is captured in slide decks rather than in documents. 

It’s hard to tell a good story with a slide – or a series of slides.  And stories are what we remember – because stories naturally fit our brains.  We remember good, emotional stories especially easily.  Data is something that we forget just as easily. 

That storytelling power is undercut by Power Point deck building.  You create a slide by putting data (or words) on it.  Perhaps you find a slide from a co-worker that has a great chart on it.  You put the two together.  And then you repeat the process until you have enough slides to fill the time allotted.  What you now have is a data set, or a set of boxes with words in them — both hard to deliver in a presentation in an interesting way, and harder still to remember.  Your Power Point slide creation technique is therefore ensuring that your presentation will be forgettable and boring. 

So don’t start with Power Point at all.  Tell your story first, so that you can be sure you have one.  Tell it in a word doc, or a storyboard, or scratch it with a quill pen on vellum, but whatever you do, create a story first.  Make sure it flows horizontally.  Then, add some illustrations with a slide program if your story calls for illustrations.  Don’t start with Power Point – it will only hurt your storytelling and therefore your presentation. 

Comments

  1. says

    I have never been a proponent of power point for speaking engagements and presentations. I agree that it is essential for a speaker to connect with their audience and that is difficult to do when you are diverting their attention to a series of images in a darkened room.
    I wish you could get this message across to conference organizers.
    I can’t tell you how often I am asked to submit my “POWER POINT” to conference organizers. Many get irritated when I tell them I don’t have one. PowerPoint really is a dirty little secret of expediency and distraction. Thanks for reiterating what I intuitively knew.

  2. says

    Nick, I am a fan of presentation software (PowerPoint, Keynote, etc.) … but only if it is (a) used when necessary and (b) used properly. When it comes to designing a good presentation, I tell my students that the first thing they should do is turn the computer off!
    As Alan Kay said, “If you have the ideas, you can do a lot without the machinery. Once you have those ideas, the machinery starts working for you. … Most ideas you can do pretty darn well with a stick in the sand.”
    Cheers!
    John

  3. says

    I had a colleague who was a great presenter, this was in the days of overhead projectors. He had a large number of overhead slides which he used to illuminate his presentations. I asked him one day what he would do if he dropped them and they got all jumbled. He looked at me as if I was stupid (which, compared to him, I was) and replied: “It won’t matter much. The presentation might be a little different, or maybe not.”

  4. says

    I agree entirely with this – and would add there’s another another ghastly feature of the PowerPoint software worth a mention, namely that the opening templates it offers users invite, and therefore positively encourage, them to create lists of bullet points. Not only that, but of the 23 ‘model presentations’ that come with the program, none of the specimen slides make any use at all of pictures (for more on which, see ‘Lend Me Your Ears’ pp.164-5 http://amzn.to/lyurb1)

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