Death by PowerPoint

There are plenty of reasons to hate Microsoft. But in my mind, PowerPoint isn’t one of them. Now, don’t get me wrong, it is very easy to make a bad presentation in PowerPoint and yes, Microsoft has designed PowerPoint to facilitate that by defaulting to bullet points. So no, they aren’t completely innocent.

But in general PowerPoint gets a bad rap. To mangle an old adage, PowerPoint doesn’t make bad presentations, people do.

PowerPoint actually has some pretty amazing features to help you tell your story (the essence of a great presentation) and you don’t need to know much. The problem is how people use it. I was once assisting a good sized non-profit organization with the development of a high impact presentation that they wanted to use to tell their story and bring in new members. I worked with them to think about their audience, the main points that would resonant and then stories from their work that would illustrate their points. We then collected interesting visuals to help illustrate their ideas throughout their presentation and scripted out some basic jumping off points for each slide and before we knew it, we had the makings of a pretty good presentation.

But then something curious happened. When I went back to the group and showed them the final version, a clean presentation with graphics and almost no text, the response I got back was shock and dismay.

“How am I going to know what to present for each slide?”
“Where are all my bullet points?”
“How is the audience going to remember my key ideas?”

I held fast, “The audience is going to remember your stories, not the bullet points. And, well, yes, you will need to practice, but the slides are meant for your audience not you.”

That didn’t go over so well and while I got compliments on all the graphics and pictures, I also got a knowing, “We’ll take it from here.”

The presentation soon digressed into nice visuals with lots of bullets and the stories slipped into lists and facts. In essence, a teleprompter for the presenters (great for anchormen, not so interesting for audiences).

So can PowerPoints be used to make great presentations? Of course, but not in lieu of two key things from the presenter:

1.    A presenter ready to shoulder his or her half of the effort. That means practice and that means the slides are for the audience not the presenter.

2.    A mind set shift from talking through bullet points, linearly going from fact to fact. To providing a personal narrative of the journey of the project. People learn from stories.

Of course, with that said there are many other great tips to making a great presentation, so here is one of the best PowerPoints I’ve seen titled, “You Suck At PowerPoint! 5 Shocking Design Mistakes You Need to Avoid.” A very funny, yet instructive take on making a great presentation. Take a look and let me know what your top tip or hate of PowerPoint is.

*Image courtesy of The Venture Edge*

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