death by powerpoint or death to powerpoint?

When I talk to my class about TV ads, I say you should never show what you’re saying and never say what you’re showing; you have separate audio and video tracks that should complement, not echo, each other. That same advice should apply to one of the banes of our modern existence.


On Wednesday, I caught some presentations by students at Quest, our annual day celebrating scholarly and creative activities. These are very bright students; I’d need a serious brain upgrade to understand much of what they discuss. Some day, some will present to very large and prestigious audiences. And yet. I’d walk into some sessions to see talks consisting of showing sentences or paragraphs on PowerPoint slides, and presenters reading those slides. Over and over. #facepalm

I don’t blame the students. These are probably the types of presentations they’re used to seeing. I doubt they receive instruction on how to make a successful presentation. And many professional talks are no better.

While I do not come to praise PowerPoint, I do not come to bury it either. If you use the program, or Keynote or Prezi or other platform, you can still make an effective presentation. But you should use it to emphasize and complement your points, not as your script. What to include? Some suggestions:

Key points. If you treat every point as a key point, then nothing is a key point. You should emphasize what you especially want your audience to remember. Consider the following scenarios:

Scenario #1: I invite you to a large cocktail party. I somehow introduce you to 100 people. How many of those folks’ names are you going to remember? And how many details will you remember about each person?

Scenario #2: I invite you to a more intimate cocktail party. I introduce you to 10 people. You’ll probably remember just as many — perhaps more — names because you have less to process. And you’ll certainly remember more details about each person you met.

Think of that in the context of the information you throw at the audience. The more you boil down the key points, the better their chance at remembering.

Visuals that underscore your points. If you want to underline key points by showing graphs, photos of your fieldwork in Africa or websites with cool features, please do! A picture is not only worth 1,000 words, but your audience will welcome it more than begging them to read a paragraph you’re saying anyway. We are visual creatures, so the right image better helps us associate what you communicate

How marketers view the universeHow your customers view the universeRelated visuals that make your points memorable. I’m a big fan of the non-sequitor visual, an offbeat image that provides humor or hyperbole to promote relevance of a key point. The more zany, the more memorable.

Finally, remember that just like with the Web, presentations come with one consideration first and foremost: your audience. Don’t ever give a presentation you wouldn’t want to sit through.



Filed under writing

2 responses to “death by powerpoint or death to powerpoint?

  1. Thanks for boiling this entry down to the key points, sir. This is great advice that I’ll remember!

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