Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
July 5, 2013 4:02 PM

PowerPoint Doesn't Suck. You Do.

How many times have you heard the phrase, "PowerPoint sucks!" or "slides kill presentations?"

Here's something to think about as you head into the weekend: PowerPoint doesn't suck. You suck. Sorry. I don't mean "you" (the person reading this blog post... I mean after all, for all I know you could well be one of the smartest people in the world), but the person who is speaking/presenting/attempting to captivate a crowd and is using way too much slide presentation software without understanding their content at all... they suck. True story: I was speaking at a board meeting several months ago. It was a small event in a very exclusive hotel. The audio/video set-up was two brand-new, fifty inch TV monitors for an intimate group of twenty executives. I plugged my MacBook air directly into these two televisions that were attached by a splitter. I ran through some of my slides during the allotted set-up time. Also in the room were the most senior communications and marketing executives from the company, to ensure that everything was being set-up just right. As I clicked through my slides, one of them asked: "what technology are you using to show your slides?"  My response was: "ummm, that's PowerPoint." They looked at each other and burst out laughing. "That's NOT how we use PowerPoint," they said.

It's not PowerPoint. It's you.

The reason people use so many headings and bulletpoints is because:

  1. They don't know their content.
  2. They don't know how to design a presentation.
  3. They don't know how to tell a story.
  4. They're worried that they are going to forget something.

It runs deeper.

If you really want to better understand how to create a more compelling presentation and how to design it, folks like Garr Reynolds, Nancy Duarte, Nick Morgan and Peter Coughter can best help you deep-dive well beyond the skimming of this blog post. The point is this: don't let bad presentations of the past dictate the presentation that you have to give tomorrow. PowerPoint, Keynote and the like are blank canvasses. You can put on them whatever you want. That being said, whatever you do put on a slide is not the content. At all. Whatever you put on the slide is simply a way to reinforce whatever it is that is coming out of your mouth. Your presentation is not your slides. Your presentation is not your technology. Your presentation is not the words or images on a screen. Your presentation is your ability to distill the information between your ears into a format that tells a simple, educational and entertaining story to your audience.

Here's what you must do:

  1. Know your content inside and out. When the slides fail (and something always fails), it should have no bearing on you or the story you tell.
  2. If you don't know how to create a story arc, find/hire someone who can help you formulate a strategy and structure.
  3. Learn how to tell your story. What is the beginning, the middle and the end? What is the one thing (or two) that everyone should know after it's all said and done?
  4. Don't worry about forgetting certain parts. If you know the greater story, the details do work out.
  5. Practice, rehearse and know your content (yes, it bears repeating).

Don't let the slides suck.

Inevitably, someone will tell you that they would like a copy of the presentation or that the presentation should also be some kind of leave-behind. Don't fall for that. It's a myth. If you have to leave something behind, don't let it be your slides. Leave the audience with speaking notes or a more formal deck, but not the slides. Why? The slides should only be a small component of the story. In fact, I would argue that the best presentations in the world are the ones where the slides are completely meaningless unless you have seen the speaker present them. Focus on that. Ensure that your slides act as a visual enhancement to everything that you're saying. Why? Because if they don't, it means that there was never a need to have the presenters there in the first place, because everything was self-evident from the words on the slides.

That would be a shame.

BONUS! Here's a hilarious little story about Steve Jobs from Apple and his desire to become a better storyteller from Business Insider: Here's An Awesome Story About Steve Jobs Telling An Employee He's Going To Become The World's Best Story Teller In 1994.

By Mitch Joel