Presenting and Teaching

The Problem Isn’t PowerPoint

6 Dec 2018  

My tennis game has not gotten better over the years. Indeed, anyone watching me play would probably conclude quite the opposite; I am getting worse as time goes by.

The good news is that I’ve figured out the problem: my racquet. It is aging, so the flawed racquet is missing all the shots. It is also slowing down and not getting to the ball.

Of course, the problem isn’t my racquet. The problem is that I haven’t been playing enough, and I spend too much time at Dunkin Donuts. Blaming my racquet is ridiculous. A good player will play well with almost any racquet.

Blaming PowerPoint for weak presentations is the same thing. The problem isn’t PowerPoint.

The Wrong Problem

People love to attack PowerPoint. I searched Google for the phrase “I hate PowerPoint” and received more than 3,000 hits. Individuals hate PowerPoint, consulting firms hate PowerPoint and senior executives (especially Jeff Bezos) hate PowerPoint. The problem, according to the critics, is that people use it to create dull, uninteresting presentations with no message and no point.

The critics are missing the real issue. PowerPoint doesn’t create lousy presentation. People do. PowerPoint is just the canvas people use. It is possible to create a wonderful presentation with it and possible to create a terrible presentation. The difference is the person building the actual presentation.

Three Points

There are three important things to remember anytime you are creating a presentation.

First, you need to have an objective. If you aren’t clear on why you are creating the presentation in the first place, it isn’t likely to be a great document when you are done. You have to start with clarity on the purpose. Are you making a recommendation? Providing a project update? Reviewing business results? If you don’t have a clear purpose, you probably should just cancel the meeting altogether and save you, and others, lots of time.

Second, you have to create a story. Presentations become dull and listless when the pages don’t flow. There is nothing worse than a page full of numbers. Who wants to look at a page full of numbers? You need to sequence the points. Start in a logical place, then move forward. Think of it like this: “We…. then…. so…. but… now…” You should have a headline on every page, and the headline should clearly state the main point.

Third, you should keep the presentation as simple as possible. You need to have data and information; this supports your recommendation. The key is to present the information simply and clearly. If information isn’t essential, you should cut it out of the presentation.

With a clear objective, a solid story and simple pages, a PowerPoint presentation can be effective and compelling. When you lack these things, a PowerPoint presentation can be dull and repetitive. PowerPoint is just a tool; it can be used well or poorly.

Learn how to create and deliver compelling business presentations in my new book How to Wash a Chicken.

You can find videos and information about the book here.

5 Responses

  1. Jacqui says:

    My friend and colleague Eric Bergman has written extensively on this issue and for decades has espoused a presentation that engages audiences in conversation. It works.

  2. emitahill says:

    And avoid just reading what’s already on the screen. A waste of time and boring.

  3. Stephen Calkins says:

    How do you reconcile the tension between a good Power Point for the presentation itself and a good PP for taking away?

    • timcalkins says:

      Some people argue a presentation can’t be both read and presented, but I think it has to work both ways. So it is a balance: headlines and support that can stand alone, without so much info that the pages get totally cluttered.

      • Jacqui says:

        On the leave behind issue, a well written summary or a snappy infographic that provides your audience with what they need to follow-up with you is very effective.

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