Skip to content

DEATH by PowerPoint

I was chatting with a friend today about a class I teach called “Visual Chi: Creating and Delivering Outstanding Electronic Presentations.” He seemed to go somewhere else for a few seconds (maybe a bad memory popped up) and then said, “Oh, another PowerPoint class, huh?”
“Geez, I hope not,”  I replied.
It’s not that I have anything against PowerPoint, or Keynote for that matter, it’s just that anything can be abused or used for evil instead of good. Even the best laid plans of presentation software creators can go south and that’s what’s happened to most PPT and K presentations.
Presentations are a great opportunity for a person or company to transmit information to an individual or group of people. Slides can be placed on a screen in front of thousands or placed on an iPad for one on one. Steve Jobs may present the latest features of the latest gadget to a massive audience, or a Realtor can use slides with a couple to support the benefits of choosing him or her to sell a home. Either big, small or something in between, the goal is the same: to help someone learn what you’d like them to learn.
For centuries our ancestors have utilized visual representations to enhance the stories they told and the information they wanted learned. They drew on the ground, on walls, rocks and anywhere else that was deemed an adequate delivery system for the message. The story was enhanced by the visual. That concept has not changed.
Today the finest presenters utilize great graphics to deliver their message. They understand that a bunch of words on a slide that are being read by the audience while being simultaneously read by the speaker blocks learning and stifles understanding. The best are storytellers who use a picture or graphic to anchor their point.
Don’t get me wrong, a good PowerPoint class could help someone understand the creation of slides, insertion of text, pictures and videos, animating and slide transitions. The best PowerPoint class, however, explains how people learn and encourages development of presentations designed to enhance the presenter’s story, not detract from it. The best PowerPoint class emphasizes simplicity over complication, presentable over readable, and pictures over words.
Garr Reynolds wrote the benchmark book for the new presentation, Presentation Zen, in 2008. I’m sure at the time, he hoped it would revolutionize the use of presentation software. While I suppose we could assert that if even one audience has been delivered from Death by PowerPoint, the book was worth it. If Reynolds has seen what I see, he’d have to be disappointed. Not much has changed.
I still see an endless stream of presentations, that while chocked full of content and information, fall short of the mark: anchoring the lesson; delivering the message.
On the back of Reynold’s Presentation Zen, Seth Godin wrote, “Please don’t buy this book! Once people start making better presentations, mine won’t look so good.”

Seth, don’t worry, you’re still safe!