PowerPoint is the worst. Of all of the terrible ways to abuse an audience, few things seem as awful as what presenters tend to do with this technology. But, there is a better way.
I’m not really writing this article to rant about the awful uses of slides, but since I’m here let’s cover a few of the classics:
- That time when a leaked General Motors slide deck became a WordArt-driven public relations disaster. Click through to see GM tell employees that when talking about recalls, not to use the word “defective” and instead to use a phrase like “does not perform to design.”
- The repeated insanity of slide decks and bullet points inside the United States military. Yes, that’s invasion planned by PowerPoint. Best quote from Brig. Gen. H. R. McMaster: “It’s dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control. Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable.”
- PowerPoint is ruining teaching in Universities, according to a slide deck that attacks slide decks. For bonus proof, read what kids are saying on Twitter.
- Peter Norvig’s timeless recasting of the Gettysburg Address. Be sure and look for the graph of new nations conceived since four score and seven years ago
- Finally, the role of presentations in killing American astronauts, which was in both the Challenger and Columbia disasters. Takeaway: PowerPoint emphasizes structure over clarity, and it’s easy to unintentionally hide details deep in the outline.
Here’s the number one rule of slide decks: Use them, but don’t need them. When people call to ask us about hiring a speaker, that’s what I always say. And if other presenters are looking for advice about PowerPoint, here are some tips for what to do and what not to do.
Do use video if you’re going to have a room and a projection system which works well with video, but make sure your clips are less than two minutes long and have clear, effective audio. You don’t want the video to be more interesting than the presenter or put people to sleep.
Don’t use slide transitions. In fact, you probably shouldn’t use any animations at all. People’s eyes are attracted to motion and if they aren’t expecting to see it, they will be distracted from what you are trying to say.
Do use a single, large, freely-available image for each (if not all) the slides. Consider having the image alone, and perhaps a couple of words on it, to use to inspire the conversation.
Don’t use more than a dozen words on a slide. The more words you have, the more people read instead of listening and taking notes.
Do visit the room in advance and sit as far as you can from the screen. Walk through your slides and make sure you can see all relevant details without straining your eyes.
Don’t read the slides aloud word-for-word. Even if there’s only three words on a slide, consider letting the audience take in those words. Use synonyms when you speak aloud.
Do use a handheld clicker instead of relying on a volunteer or walking back to the computer every time. This is more reliable and faster.
Don’t pass on seeking guidance. We’ve written many blog posts with tips for speakers and general advice for presentations. You can always do better, so read an article before every time you get in front of an audience.
So yes, you can and should use PowerPoint. But don’t depend on it. It’s your words, your presence, and your delivery that make the difference. That’s the secret of great speeches.
Now, head for a podium and find your voice.