Let’s Click Off PowerPoint

Yes, PowerPoint serves as a competent visual aid to convey your meaning at meetings, but it’s tedious for speakers and boring for audiences. Pro or con?

Pro: Sliding into a Coma

Did your co-worker present a 90-slide PowerPoint (MSFT) show on the new sales strategy? Or maybe you sat through a new product-overview slide deck with a word count that rivaled a Jane Austen novel. These PowerPoint horror stories are sadly more common than not.

If you bombard meeting attendees with too much information and read from way too many drab slides, they won’t be able to absorb the points you want to make. Most presenters lean on PowerPoint as a crutch rather than use it for what it’s intended—a broad framework or outline of a presentation rather than an assault of text on a slide.

There’s a clear way to focus a meeting and make your desired impact without slides. Knowing your audience in order to be relevant, having a dialogue rather than a one-way broadcast, and ending with no more than three core messages are keys to success. I start many customer meetings or presentations by giving an overview of the general direction of the conversation and asking questions to confirm what attendees want to get out of the meeting.

Once I understand their side of the story, I rely heavily on relevant analogies and storytelling to make what I’m saying relatable to their own pain points. And, in the end, I reinforce my three key messages so when the presentation wraps, the audience is left with the main takeaways. We forget the time-tested presentation rule of "Tell them what you’re going say, tell them, then tell them what you told them." This trumps PowerPoint any day.

Con: Compelling When Used Properly

Whether you like to admit it or not, PowerPoint is a useful meetings tool. In a digital era where meetings are less frequently face-to-face, PowerPoint serves as the de facto resource to keep meetings efficient and on topic. Video teleconference technology makes a great tool to replicate in-person meetings, but PowerPoint is what keeps a meeting focused and effective.

As the CEO of a startup company that targets global retailers and brands, I find it crucial to be able to run virtual meetings with staff members or prospective clients. The key is knowing how to avoid the kind of PowerPoint misuse that causes everyone’s eyes to glaze over. The application’s bad reputation comes not because of a flaw with the tool but rather because of the lack of skill of the user. Many speakers are ignorant of the fact that a 50-slide presentation won’t get anything but complaints and grief. Essentially, the message is lost in the size of the deck.

PowerPoint will most certainly evolve as a meetings tool. Recently, the export-to-PDF function has become my new favorite functionality. We’re using it to draft one-pagers and even brochures, and not worrying about sharing decks that will be misused.

Where do I see PowerPoint in 2020? We’ll be able to have a much richer experience in meetings with more multimedia functionality added. The long and short of it is that PowerPoint is here to stay.

Opinions and conclusions expressed in the Debate Room do not necessarily reflect the views of Bloomberg Businessweek, Businessweek.com, or Bloomberg LP.

Reader Comments

Dennis Mulato

Powerpoint is here to stay. My team is predominantly virtual and Powerpoint sets the stage, drives the conversation flow, and the central "asset" which people can take away from a meeting. However, the application is terribly misused and most business professional are quite frankly clueless on how to use it effectively.

Time is limited, so my 2 rules of thumb is for presentations:
1. Convey your idea/strategy/business goals in 10 or fewer slides. If you can't, then you're not getting to the point--common sense.
2. The "meaty" part of your slides should have 4 basic elements:
- A picture
- A description
- An expected benefit (preferably financial)
- A delivery date

These are the 4 most important components of a slide... anything else is jibberish.

Cheers!
Dennis Mulato

Rosangel

The problem is not PowerPoint but the speaker.

A good presentation is not measured by the number of slides but by the interest aroused in the audience.

I'm tired of seeing senior managers with low skills as speakers. Sometimes they do not study the presentation in advance because there are employees who make it.

Vic

When used properly, PPTs can add to a presentation, reinforcing important points. Most presenters create too many slides and then simply read from them.

Duh, I can read them by myself, thank you.

But if PPTs are used as an outline for the speaker, who acts as a color man, adding additional information to the bulleted items on the slide, then it can be a powerful tool.

I also like adding images, charts, and graphs to PPTs, which are hard to describe verbally.

Kurmudge

Do you blame Word for a boring press release? Or Excel for an over-optimistic forecast?

PowerPoint is often (usually) used badly, but don't blame the tool.

Jennifer

Have you heard of Prezi? This is going to become this century's PowerPoint.

Michael

In the old days of the Kodak slides, my old boss used to inset a picture of a Playboy bunny. Most presentations are boring anyway.

MG

I love PowerPoint. it is a great way to frame a discussion/idea in a visual yet bullet-point format. (I just wish it were easier to use formatting-wise!)

Mark Lassoff

The problem is 95% of presenters use PowerPoint wrong. How many presentations have you sat through where someone reads bullet points off of the screen? It's designed to illustrate what the speaker is saying--not create a transcription of it.

Leslie Ann Fox

I recommend using images only, with an occasional headline or a pithy quote for variety. Use the notes section to remind yourself of the message you want to convey with the image. A few days before giving the presentation, print it out and practice, practice, practice talking through it. If you must post the presentation on a website, save it as a PDF in the notes view. The imagery and the key message points should suffice for audiences who have heard you speak. For shorter presentations, a video posted online is a nice option.

Mike Halperin

I agree that when used right, PowerPoint is a powerful tool. On the other hand, Lincoln made one of the most powerful speeches ever without PP. Worse, imagine if it had been in PowerPoint!

David M.

Anyone remember the good ole days of transparencies? For those too young, they were made from plastic, so printing them was slow and painful. You also had to use a projector that would almost always burn out half way between presentations. Their upside? Much shorter and to the point presentations.
When Powerpoint first came out, the bells and whistles in it were dazzling and everyone wanted to use them to awe the rest of us grunts in the room. In fairness, Powerpoint is a great tool, only if we present what we mean.

Stuart Tichenor

I once read an article whose title summed it all up: "Power Point Induced Sleep."

AT

As with any tool, it's all about "how you swing your hammer." PPT may prop up a bad story teller or sink 'em. Know the audience, know what they want, and be clear about what you want them to do or how you want them to feel after story-time. Then start writing.

Tim

PowerPoint can be powerful, but as with so many communications tools today it is overused. The basic communications skills of business people, in fact people in general, continue to deteriorate. Too many business people hide behind PowerPoints, email, and now social media. They are often unable to speak in public; build a consensus or negotiate; or even put together their thoughts in a coherent sentance or paragraph. We may be more connected and have the ability to artfully express ourselves via tools like PowerPoint, but the overall quality of communication has been diminished.

john keane

First comment: PowerPoint is just a tool and..."A fool with a tool is still a fool."

Second comment courtesy of Tim Berners-Lee: "Power corrupts but PowerPoint corrupts absolutely."

Daniel, App 2013, BSBA Marketing

I have seen some awful PowerPoint presentations that consisted of long sentences on 100 slides. That's the opposite of what you want to do.

PowerPoint serves two functions:
1) reminding the presenter of the content to cover, and...
2) providing visual/bullet aids to the audience to better understand the content.

A PowerPoint generally need not be more than 10-15 slides of bulleted content (that makes for a 20 minute presentation at minimum), and then having extra slides with blown-up graphics that merit individual attention is okay, too. It's not necessary to have a picture on each slide, but having one on every other slide helps grab the audience's attention.

When done wrong, PPT's provide the final nail in the coffin for a bad presentation or make an otherwise good one boring. When done right, PPT's provide vital information and help a good presentation become great or help a great presentation completely blow away the audience with new insights and understanding.

picopong

As they say, PowerPoint doesn't kill people...

Most people can absorb only three points at most at any given sitting. PowerPoint wasn't intended to be akin to a chalkboard on steroids.

Craig F

I was going to comment, but I didn't have time to prepare slidezzzzzzzz.

Sarsij Nayanam

I believe PowerPoint is here to stay, more because we are so dependent on it by now. Our whole idea of presentations and discussions already includes PowerPoint.

Although, it's often a pain to see that this tool has been misused, more than used.

I would personally prefer a white-board kind of discussion when there has to be some strategy-based discussion, and some sort of planning.

Whereas I would prefer a PowerPoint-based talk when I want to know how to participate in a session like knowing the company culture or an orientation.

Best would be a mix of PowerPoint and white-board discussion, usually in the cases where there are knowledge transfers to be done, analysis of sales, and marketing figures, etc.

Terry

PowerPoint slides are like proposals; most people recycle old information and never really actually start from scratch. No wonder they all look the same and are equally boring. Hard thinking about the salient messages and why they are compelling to the audience is required. Not grabbing the same ideas from yesterday's pile and wordsmithing.

Srinath Rajanna

As the name suggests, "PowerPoint" is a useful tool to make your point more powerful.

You cannot blame the car if you don't know how to drive it properly.

Janne

As a rule of thumb, one slide should last for 3-4 minutes of speaking; should have four points or less; and should never, ever contain full sentences.

A slide is an illustration to your talk. It is a complement to your talk. It is not your talk.

If you can give your entire presentation simply by expanding on the slides, then your slides have too much--and the wrong kind of--information.

Bill McNeely

The military is the biggest abuser of this application. If the idea can't be conveyed or fleshed out in 10 slides, then produce a well written Word document with some graphics, charts, and pictures sprinkled throughout. If leaders can't be bothered to read something longer than 2 typed pages, then go find another line of work. Read the book Cobra II on how the misuse of PowerPoint led directly to making key mistakes the first year in Iraq. The 4th phase of the invasion (restabilizing the GoI) consumed all of 2 slides. No the "blame the one British officer who wrote that part of plan" explanation does not fly with me.

sue

PowerPoint presentations can be very helpful as long as each slide is short and illustrates only one or two major points. Some speakers make the mistake of trying to put their entire presentation on the slides, which is distracting as the audience tries to read the slides instead of listening to the speaker.

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