Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Death by Power Point - are you a slave to technology?

Today's question: why is it that when people are asked to do a presentation, they immediately open Power Point and write a hundred slides?

Tomorrow's question: why is that when people ask me to do a presentation, they expect that I will have a Power Point presentation with a hundred slides?

My practice when asked to present or develop a presentation is to have a conversation upfront about expectations. I make it clear that I don't use Power Point as my speakers' notes - I have notes for that. I don't write out slides that I will then read to the audience - if the audience can read, I can email them the material and save them the trouble of turning up. I certainly don't feel the need to demonstrate my skill as a reader. I use Power Point to show visual material that will support what I'm talking about. By "visual material" I mean pictures, cartoons, film footage or single words presented with impact to act as signposts in the presentation.

Usually when I have this conversation, the other person nods and says that that's fine and that's how they use Power Point too.

I breathe a sigh of relief and then go and put together around six slides. I hand it over. At this point, comments like "when will you have the rest?", "great outline", "it doesn't say anything". To the last comment my response is, "No it doesn't say anything - I'll be doing the talking.  That's what I'm there for!"

If I don't have control, then this is a losing battle and I do my best to engage my audience in spite of inflicting "death by Power Point". If I have control, then I'll usually receive feedback about how refreshing it was to witness an engaging presentation that did not rely on the standard slides.

I met someone at the printer today who was printing out his Power Point presentation. As the machine spat out the pages, he stood there shaking his head and muttering about presentations. I ventured to enquire about what he was saying.  He responded saying that he was preparing a presentation. I commented that it looked like a long one.  "Not really. There are just a lot of slides."

I couldn't help myself. I spruiked my view. Power Point is a classic example of a piece of technology that drives human behaviour, rather than being a tool which helps us.

He agreed with me, before shrugging and saying he had to go and finish preparing his slides. He could make a different choice, but maybe he's had the conversation with his boss and is resigned to producing another death by Power Point experience.

What's your relationship with Power Point? What's the best presentation you've ever seen?


  1. I hate having Powerpoint slides read at me. I try not to inflict it on people, but I often don't have control, and my boss tends to be overly wordy and has the power to push me in that direct even when I resist.
    The best presentations I have seen have been as you describe - pictures that illustrate what is being said without making the talking redundant. They are all too rare.

    1. Resist! Resist!
      It is hard though - especially when you're not the one in control.
      My tactic now is to talk anyway and forget about the slides altogether. Sometimes I even get away with it!
      Let's have a little revolution.

  2. You neglect to mention overuse of animation and transitions.