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Four Reasons to Ditch Powerpoint in Your Next Presentation

January 25, 2010

Most people fear public speaking over death, but I was one who happily embraced it as part of my professional development. At some point mid-way along my career I realized that, if done well, public speaking can create a certain air of authority. Something about the boldness of standing confidently before a crowd, offering up packaged bits of useful information and well-researched insights, and then bringing it all home with a compelling recommendation; well, it simply causes people to think you are much smarter than you really are.  I liked that part of public speaking very much.

Over the years, I have led many a presentation, mostly with the help of a wonderful invention by Microsoft called Powerpoint. In fact, the more I think about it, it might be better stated that Powerpoint was the surrogate for all of those presentations, and I just helped it along by presenting the slides.  Perhaps I have become a bit too dependent on Powerpoint.

It all came out last week when I was forced to conduct a powerpointless presentation. Five minutes prior to my appointed time, I waltzed into the conference room where the meeting was supposed to take place only to discover that the organizers had switched the room. The new room had no access to our company’s network; thus, no access to my precious slide show. There was no time to run back to my office and save the file to a flash drive, and the terrifying truth dawned on me: I had to make a presentation without using Powerpoint.

Rather than panicking, I did what most spiritually mature business leaders should do in that type of situation, and said “So what?” I said a quick silent prayer, something along the lines of being able to do all things through Christ who strengthens me, and took a deep breath. The information was not new to me, afer all, and I pretty much had a visual memory of the order of the slides. And guess what? It went fine. In fact, it may have gone even better than my original plan. Here’s what I learned about why we should ditch the powerpoint slides once in a while:

1. You will be more conversational.

Instead of looking back and pointing to a screen, I was much more focused on the faces in the room. The formal corporate presentation to a glazed-over management team was transformed into a casual scene of just me and the gang talking about stuff. It came off as relaxed and comfortable. I think the crowd appreciated it much more, too.

2. It forces you to know the material.

When you use the slides as a crutch, it’s tempting to get by with just a surface-level knowledge of the information, because you can always lean on those bullet points to remind you of what you are trying to say. Not so when you pitch the powerpoint. Luckily, in my case I knew the content very well since I had made the same presentation several times over the last couple of months. So it was not hard to speak off the top of my head. Going naked on powerpoint certainly forces you to be better prepared, and that generally will help you gain more confidence in your ability to present. Rehearsing several times before you go live is not a bad idea either.

3. It gives you more of a natural credibility.

Yes, you will become much more impressive to the muckety-mucks in the crowd when they see you rattle off all that material without a prompt. “This is all coming off the top of her head?” they will ask themselves in disbelief. “She must be brilliant! Johnson, go see if you can poach her off of the Regional Group. I must have her on my International Team!”  Your stock may very well rise in the organization after a few of these casual-but-brilliant management soirées.

4. You are more in control of the situation.

Network issues? Technical problems? Who cares? You are in perpetual Go-Time all the time, now that you are no longer dependent on Powerpoint! We’ve all felt that nauseous wave of panic wash over us as the attendees wait silently while you and the meeting organizer stupidly attempt to decipher the technical problem that didn’t exist ten minutes earlier. It’s embarrassing and sets the meeting off on a horrible tone, which you now must recover from. However, if you had had the presentation memorized on the tip of your tongue, and all the charts and graphs were handily copied in your briefcase, ready for distribution, then you become the Master in control of your presentation destiny. No technical glitch can destroy your fate, or your meeting.

So next time you’re up for a presentation, ditch the Powerpoint in favor of your true knowledge and charisma. Go ahead, I dare you.

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17 Comments leave one →
  1. January 25, 2010 8:26 pm

    sounds good to engage more eye contact and personally with the people that you are relating to, and taking advantage of the fact that you are alive and present, that is…not digital. wonderful!

  2. January 25, 2010 10:10 pm

    Okay, can’t resist…

    you are forced then to put the power into your points. 🙂

  3. January 25, 2010 11:20 pm

    Few know this, but PowerPoint was originally created for charts and graphs. NOT text. What happened was that people started filling up slides with words — and then couldn’t stand the idea of white space anywhere on the slide, so they crammed in more words. The maximum number of words you should use on a PowerPoint slide is five — yes, five. After that, people start reading the slide and ignore the speaker. Or they look to see what the slides say and where the speaker skips something or uses different words. The larger the meeting, the worse the problem.

    I hate PowerPoint. I’m convinced it’s the single greatest obstacle to effective business communication.

    And one day, I may tell you how I really feel.

    • January 26, 2010 6:16 pm

      Glynn, you are not alone, I’m sure. PowerPoint is definitely getting overdone. It was time for me to break from it! But I must admit I was dependent, too. Mostly to help me in organizing my thoughts.

    • Dr. DJ permalink
      April 10, 2010 11:24 am

      I instruct college level students in Biology and still “dance” around the entire room and actually use the blackboard as well as occasionally using the computer projector for a picture or 2…..multi media, from memory including chalk dust! The students love it!

  4. January 26, 2010 12:29 am

    I heard an hour long YWAM presentation by some VIP in India. The husband had a very professional informational PP session, which we endured. At the end, his warm, personable, passionate wife told us real stories for 15 minutes which changed the outcome completely. She reached our hearts with intimacy and connection.

  5. January 26, 2010 9:17 am

    When I read the title I thought you were going to promote Apple’s Keynote in favor of MS PowerPoint, but that was just wishful thinking I guess ;). It would have been fairly off the topic of this blog I think.

    Now to the post: if you’re using PowerPoint for creating these boring, badly designed, bullet-point filled slides which you read out loud from the screen, yeah ditch it! A lot of people in professional context create these “slideuments” (as Carmine Gallo calls them), I’m quickly recovering from this disease!

    But if you actually back up your speaking with visually engaging slides, often with a single word, sentence or picture, then don’t ditch it, but use it!

    • January 26, 2010 6:15 pm

      Leon, you sound like an expert. More than me, anyway. I always try to reduce the text as much as possible, and use the slides to help with the flow of the presentation, mostly. But it’s easy to slide into the slideuments, as you call them. That term along will certainly shame me from ever coming close to that.

  6. January 26, 2010 10:52 am

    Excellent points (I like LL’s, too).

    One thing I’ve noticed anytime I’m in a room where PP is used: a lot of people are not listening; they’re trying to read the slides (there’s always too much text) and annotate their pieces of paper. The result is a lot is missed.

    I used to enjoy the audioconferences I did precisely because people had to listen, and carefully because we talked about employment law. Soon enough, however, we went to the Web and Web-based conferences with slides that the attorneys I interviewed loaded with text. I retired before my role in that kind of presentation became entirely unnecessary.

  7. January 26, 2010 8:51 pm

    I remember first feeling the power of the public platform when in high school. I ran for student body secretary and knocked their socks off. It felt good to know people related to what I said. Have done a little speaking over the years, but not much lately. That may change soon, so this is good advice.

    Nothing worse than a presentation that simply consists of the presenter reading his slides. Ugh! I like the sound of your lessons learned. Sounds like those little diddies promote more community.

    Great post, and very practical.

  8. January 27, 2010 10:24 am

    “well, it simply causes people to think you are much smarter than you really are. I liked that part of public speaking very much.”
    This made me giggle… love it!

    I also enjoy powerpoint, but definately see your point here. Powerpoint can be crutch. Good things to think about!

    I love public speaking… because of how I can make others feel… I enjoy the thrill of pumping up the spirit, a little different than the avenue you are used too, but I suppose in the office world motivation is part of it all??

  9. Andrew Turner permalink
    January 27, 2010 1:25 pm

    I read an article in a Canadian national paper yesterday regarding folks ditching their Crackberry in favor of little notebooks. Seems like a great idea, to me. I wonder if in the next few years we’re going to see a trend back towards books and “hard copy” as a response to the soulessness of computers; like the slow food movement.

    Your article brought me back to elementary school and the teacher squeaking away on the paper board with a permanent marker. Some of them were pretty good at drawing out their lessons; it definitely left a positive impression on me (and I hated elementary school).

  10. January 28, 2010 12:50 am

    I’ve retired from the corporate world but have seen enough powerpoints in my life to know your points are valid and most convincing – preparing with powerpoint may be excellent homework but facing your audience with no crutches can really be a deal maker – nice post!

  11. February 4, 2010 9:38 am

    Once when I first started talking about advertising I nearly had a conniption when technical failure prevented me from using PP. Not a big deal if I could have had the material in mind, but most of it was print ads and embedded TV commercials.

    “Have you see the one where the bird…”

    For smaller groups I take a back-up folder with me just in case. I don’t know what I’d do if computer failure happened in a large group.

    In this way, PP (etc.) is sort of a crutch for me. I have to use it.

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