Homicide By Powerpoint.

Just saw the story in the paper about that guy who was so depressed he checked into a room at the Chateau Marmont and watched agency Powerpoint presentations until he died of narco-flatline-boredom induced coma brain-death. Poor bastard must’ve been at the end of his rope.

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I’m of the opinion that 99% of all Powerpoint presentations suck. (Perhaps you’ve seen my Powerpoint presentation about this on Slideshare.)

Right now I am reading a book called Presentation Zen and it’s pretty good. It’s one of those books you can kinda read standing there in the aisle of the bookstore. Because the main message is summed up in the title of one of its chapters: “Simplicity: Why It Matters.”

That is the sum and substance of it, folks. Simplicity. And the reason almost all Powerpoint presentations suck is because their authors pack way too much into the slides and make their audiences read their speech. The thing is, the audience came to hear a speech, not to read a big white book up on the wall.

Seems to me the reason most presenters pack too much into each slide is because they use their slides as a crutch. They use the words on the screen as prompts to remind them of the speech they should have tattooed into their skulls.

Two bad things happen when a speaker cedes control of their presentation to a screen. They lose their audience (people are watching the screen) and they lose passion (because they’re reading, not speaking from the heart).

To see what Powerpoint does to the passion and power of true oratory, I refer you to an oldie-but-goodie. First, click here to read Lincoln’s incredible Gettysburg Address. And then here to see Prof. Peter Norvig’s famous parody: The Gettysburg Address As Powerpoint.

Does Powerpoint always have to suck? No. When good speakers use Powerpoint it serves to amplify their presentation, not replace it. Steven Jobs uses it quite well (of course, he uses Apple’s Keynote) and his speeches are the subject of another pretty good book, The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs.

Again, the main message is SIMPLICITY. Perhaps one good way to think of your slides is this: if your speech is the product, your slides are the outdoor boards. Big, simple, graphic, on-message, and on-brand.

12 Comments

  1. Totally agree.

    Another book worth checking out is called Slide:ology by Nancy Duarte. She created Al Gore’s presentation for his Inconvenient Truth tour.

    Some interesting points about weaving boring data into a human story to enhance retention and engagement.

    Reply
  2. Agreed. Would like to see you flesh this out a bit more. I would love to encourage people to simplify, move from text to visuals, and incorporate video. BTW, check out Garr’s latest book – Presentation Design. Its beautiful and I feel gives a lot more substantive examples.

    Polie

    Reply
  3. Very true, it’s so easy to fall into bad habits. Making bad presentation great is more work, but ultimately well worth it. We have to remember the person in the crowd that’s listening and watching us. A great book on presenting is one that you’ve cited in “Hey Whipple” – “I can see you naked” by Ron Hoff – great primer on being at ease in front of a crowd. Thanks!
    Phil,

    Reply
  4. At one point about a year ago, my computer was crashing every time I opened a PowerPoint presentation. My soul kind of does the same thing every time I sit through one.

    I feel ya.

    😉

    Reply
  5. Yes yes yes, but…

    Anyone ever find people resist simplicity? I’d say about two thirds of the time (that’s 2/3 for you fractionally minded folk) I’ll work my ass off to simplify the whole thing, make the message as clear as possible, and then people revolt and demand that there be more “meat” put into it. I’m starting to not even both trying and simply fill the slides up with bullet points. They add no value whatsoever, people inevitably ignore either the slides or myself, but the more bullet points I have, the less people protest.

    I’m not really sure how to resolve this issue. I’ve read Presentation Zen and Slide:ology. Follow their advice religiously. And still, the call comes in: “Gotta have more bullet points. I’m tellin’ ya, you’re gonna want more bullet points.”

    Reply
  6. Great post. Don’t be a PPT hater—truth is you can do a killer presentation in PowerPoint. Just like you can do one that sucks in Keynote. Trouble is most people putting together decks in organizations lack the confidence to be simple. Firmly believe the number of bullet points in a deck is inversely proportional to the skill of the speaker.

    Reply
    • Agreed. Am not NECESSARILY a PPT hater. It’s just that I see SO MANY bad ones.

      Reply
  7. Read “The Perfect Pitch” which speaks amazingly to this point- used London 2012 Olympics pitch as an awesome example. When you use ppt, people tend to read the slides, and hardly listen to your delivery. Also ppt doesn’t provide much in terms of a leave-behind- esp if you use brief slides.

    Reply
  8. And I’ve just come back from presenting a bad one. Now I just feel horrible. Thanks a bunch, Luke!
    😀

    Reply
  9. I constantly have this problem with peers in my college. I have had to sit through countless powerpoint presentations that are simply slides with the entire speech on them. They are so dull and tiring to sit through, I hope every body reads this, I shared it on my facebook! Love it! Perhaps somebody can do a workshop on how to make powerpoints!

    Reply
  10. people who actually write a power point presentation, neither have the real power nor make the right point

    Reply
  11. Hello there,

    Reply

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Luke Sullivan

Author, speaker, and ad veteran available to recharge, reinvigorate, and refocus marketing, advertising, and branding firms.

I give a hugely energetic series of presentations on innovation, creativity, branding, and marketing. I spent 32 years in the trenches of advertising (at agencies like Martin, GSD&M, and Fallon) and I’ve put everything I learned into my book, Hey Whipple, Squeeze This. But for me nothing beats taking the message out and speaking to living breathing audiences at clients, agencies, and conferences. You can book me on the button below.

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