Don’t blame PowerPoint for a boring presentation. The problem with today’s typical business presentation is NOT PowerPoint. The storyteller is the problem, the presenter who creates wordy, text-heavy slides and uses dull, convoluted jargon and buzzwords.
In a previous column titled, Jeff Bezos and the end of PowerPoint as we know it, I made the point that Bezos as well as other well-known business leaders are using a more visually engaging method of delivering presentations and doing so with the aid of traditional presentation software. Some readers blamed PowerPoint for bad presentations. I disagree. If used creatively, PowerPoint is a fabulous tool to present ideas that are clear, memorable, and engaging.
Recently I visited my nephew who attends the University of Oregon. He said he loves one class where the professor uses engaging images, photographs, and multi-media in his PowerPoint slides. He says another professor in a separate class uses a PowerPoint style full of text and bullet points. In the former class he stays until the end of the lecture. In the latter, he leaves early and catches up with notes online. The problem is the second professor uses PowerPoint slides as a repository for notes.
According to Garr Reynolds, author of Presentation Zen, “Slides are slides. Documents are documents. They aren’t the same thing. Attempts to merge them result in what I call the ‘slideument.’ The creation of the slideument stems from a desire to save time. People think they are being efficient—a kind of kill-two-birds-with-one-stone approach. Unfortunately the only think ‘killed’ is effective communications.”
I was honored to endorse the 2nd edition of Presentation Zen because I believe in Reynolds’ philosophy and his approach to creating visually engaging slides. Reynolds believes that despite all the tools available to presenters today, storytelling has a long way to go. “While presentation technology has evolved over the years, the presentations themselves have not necessarily evolved. Today, millions of presentations are given every day with the aid of desktop applications such as PowerPoint and Keynote…Google Docs and Prezi. Yet, most presentations remain mind-numbingly dull.”
I co-presented with Reynolds at an event in Japan and, despite my own experience with delivering presentations, I learned a lot. All of us have room to improve the way we give presentations and that’s why I seek out designers who think visually for a living. Two such people are Yancey Unequivocally and Cory Jim, co-owners of presentation design firm, Empowered Presentations. Recently, Yancey showed me some fabulous examples of before-and-after slides created in PowerPoint. I’ve included the slides below.
The first before-and-after is a typical example of what happens when many presenters hear the advice, “add pictures to your slides.” They will keep all their bullet points and add a picture to the slide. If you still do this, don’t be hard on yourself. It’s exactly what I used to do before I started studying the science and the art of presentation design. But there is a better way as you can see the in the next slide. Empowered Presentations created one slide for each of the four statistics on the “before” slide (I only included one of the slides below). This particular presentation was part of a pitch to land a $1.5 million contract. There were twenty other bidders for the contract, most of whom used bulleted, wordy PowerPoint slides. Guess who won the contract?
Before: Picture added to text
After: Designed for impact
The second example was used for educational purposes. It was delivered by a doctor who wanted his audience to be aware of the staggering hospital costs to treat elderly patients after a fall. The first slide is an example of everything wrong with PowerPoint. It’s all bullets and your minds’ eye wants to read ahead as the speaker is delivering his information. That’s not an effective way to deliver ideas. Again, Empowered Presentations used one slide for each statistic and chose ‘painful’ pictures to demonstrate painful statistics.
Before: Text heavy list
After: Better illustrates point three
I know what you’re thinking: By putting each “bullet” or idea on a separate slide, it adds more slides to my deck and takes me longer to get through. Think about it this way. It takes as much time to deliver several slides with one idea on each as it would to deliver multiple bullet points on one slide. Stick to one idea or key statistic per slide.
“It’s not the platform, its’ the user,” Yancey told me. “You can create amazing presentations in all of these platforms [PowerPoint, Keynote, Sliderocket, Prezi]. You just need design intuition.”