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Why Powerpoint is Awesome!

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This is a delightful guest post from our friend and presentation design expert, Konrad, that satirically details the amazing awesomeness of PowerPoint and its never-ending list of potential uses. Perhaps after reading, you too can be awesome at PowerPoint.

The so-called intellectuals and military/industrial “leaders” think PowerPoint is deadly and they want to get rid of it!

This is a kind of fad among management types. The article, PowerPoint should be banned, in the Washington Post, May 26, 2015, tries to summarize the “issues” (using PowerPoint!). There’s even an anti-PowerPoint political party in Switzerland or someplace.

All these highbrow experts are dead wrong – PowerPoint is actually awesome and here’s why.

 

You rule!

First, think of the presentation situation: you get to dominate the meeting. It’s true!

Like a preacher, college professor or big shot executive, you get to stand up front, maybe with a lectern, and no one will tell you to stop!

Even if you lose control and the meeting degenerates into “an exchange of ideas” or “a meaningful discussion”, you can get control back again with your next slide.

And nearly everybody will stay until you’re done! You can burn a whole afternoon!

 

You’re brilliant!

You really get to show off with a presentation. You don’t even have to know the material! Put it all on the slides and read it! You’ll never get lost!

Don’t worry about editing – put it all in there! Nothing is more impressive than loads of stuff – it shows you’ve really been working hard and your presentation will be a good thick handout. And include all your best slides, even if they’re not relevant. This shows “outside the box thinking” and will really impress your boss. And maybe those people at the next conference will offer you a better job!

And be funny! Show your incredible sense of humor! Comedy is easy and it will really lighten the mood. Check out clip art! Dilbert is always good. And who doesn’t like YouTube cat videos?

Those “experts” will tell you to use meaningful visuals – this is hard. What does “meaningful” mean, anyway? So don’t worry too much about visuals – you think in text, don’t you?

 

You can have fun with PowerPoint! At work!

It’s much more fun to play with PowerPoint than to create a really “informative” presentation. Besides, PowerPoint is really easy – your 9 year old can probably do it. In fact, let your kids help! Nothing like family participation.

Don’t worry, nobody will restrict you. There is no corporate control when it comes to PowerPoint – you can even use your favorite music and hilarious sound effects!

 

Here are a few tips for an incredible presentation

  • Fill up your slides – blank space is wasted space.
  • Use full sentences and punctuation. This is the classy approach.
  • Decorate your text with bullets – this can make it look organized, even if it’s not.
  • Use a lot of bright color so people won’t be bored. Check out the gradient presets – rainbows!
  • For the same reason, use several different fonts – you probably have a lot of them you haven’t even tried. Some of the script and decorative fonts are really great. And try out Text Effects like 3d and Glow. Make your text really different!
  • Check out all the really cool free backgrounds and stuff on the web. Microsoft even provides backgrounds and templates so you know they’re good.
  • Animation is really fun! Use it at random to perk things up – there’s even a “random” animation effect. And always pick from the “exciting” animation effect category.
  • PowerPoint has a lot of mind-blowing slide transitions, too. These can really perk up your deck and keep your audience fascinated. There’s a random option here too.
  • Photos of your kids or your car (or better yet, pets) will add a personal touch and improve any business situation.
  • If you show data, spreadsheets, etc., use a lot to impress and make it small so you won’t have to answer questions. More is more!
  • Complexity is your friend – it shows how smart you are and inhibits those annoying questions.

 

The best thing of all is that presenting this way puts you right in the corporate/military/industrial/educational mainstream. Everybody does it this way.

And, best of all, if there’s trouble, you can always jump on the bandwagon and blame PowerPoint – it made you stupid!

 

But seriously, a lot of people really hate Powerpoint

PowerPoint has been blamed for crimes ranging from boardroom boredom to engineering disasters. Some believe PowerPoint is inherently nasty and evil, fostering a mode of thinking and communicating that gives the impression of clarity and precision while hiding error and confusion.

Yet, nobody blames Excel for a flawed business plan, misleading sales forecast or an illegible chart. Is Word responsible for a confusing report or an illiterate press release?

 

For now, here are a couple of observations about PowerPoint and presentations

  • Sometimes, you shouldn’t give a presentation. Sometimes, an informal meeting may be a better choice than a formal PowerPoint presentation scenario. The familiar presentation setting with a speaker standing in front of the room with a projector and screen (maybe even a podium) does not always promote free discussion. For very complex subject matter, distributing a complete report for the audience to study individually, followed by discussions, is probably better than a presentation.
  • Even in appropriate situations, PowerPoint is usually used badly. You can find bad presentations everywhere (as well as all sorts of advice on improving them). In my experience as a consultant, I have noticed that most executives agree immediately that their sales presentations are poor.

 

I will add to the profusion of advice on improving presentations in later posts. For now, let me entertain you with my thoughts on why PowerPoint is used so badly.

The problem, of course, is with the user of the tool, not the tool itself. Even though PowerPoint has been accused of seducing users into bad practices, I will assume that you, dear reader, are less pliant than this.

For most people, PowerPoint is the first tool they encounter with any sort of usable visual capability. It s easy to move text and other objects around the slide, insert clip art or photos, play with color, insert sounds, and even make things appear, disappear and fly! This stuff is obviously way more fun than actually thinking about building a coherent, engaging presentation.

 

So, here is what’s wrong with PowerPoint users

 

Users fail to understand the role of PowerPoint in a presentation

Let’s start with what a PowerPoint deck is not. It is, first and foremost, not a document meant to be read. The presentation situation is obviously not the same as someone reading a book. If you make your slides like pages in a book (with paragraphs and sentences) it will be read, either by the audience or by you (or both). If the audience reads it, why are you there? If you read it to your audience, you insult and bore them. And some studies show that if you and the audience read it at the same time, your audience will actually cease to pay attention at all.

In fact, the PowerPoint file is not even the whole story.

 

A good presenter uses PowerPoint to highlight his message, make it memorable, and to visually explain complexities.

 

A good way to tell if a PowerPoint file is on the right track is that it is virtually useless without the presenter.

You may be haunted by the expectation that you will be asked to provide a ‘handout’ or a ‘leave-behind’ or someone may ask for a ‘copy of your presentation’. Resist this politely but firmly and offer a separate, carefully written and illustrated document instead. Then, people may have a better chance of getting your message (including those who did not have the pleasure of experiencing your presentation).

If ignorant conference planners insist on ‘publishing your presentation’ you should offer your carefully prepared document in PowerPoint format.

The PowerPoint presentation is also not an outline to help you keep your place; you should know your material better than that. And, if you do need an outline, why show it to the audience?There is value in providing agendas and other signposts in long presentations but this is for the audience s benefit, not yours.

But, if a presentation is not these things, what is it?

I have not been able find a better description for the role of the presentation than the admittedly old-fashioned visual aid.

It is an aid to you, the presenter, and your audience, while you deliver your message. Note that it is not the message itself; this is your responsibility. And it is visual, which gives it great power, if used properly.

 

Users fail to focus on the audience

Many of the problems with presentations can be traced back to this simple failure. Here are a couple of observations. No matter how smart you think you are, or how much you know, or how hard you have worked on your project, or who you know, or how funny you think you are, the presentation is not about you.

Some people are incapable of understanding this let’s try again: it’s not about you.

 

What the presentation is about is getting the audience to do what you want them to do.

 

Everything else is crap. Even simple legibility is a problem. I am continually astounded by presentation content that just can’t be seen by most of the audience. How does the presenter expect people to understand material they can’t see? The presenter has simply failed to imagine himself in a seat in the presentation venue.

I once worked for a CEO who had this problem. I explained it to myself by noting that he was formerly a fighter pilot. In retrospect, I’m not sure whether I meant that he had excellent eyesight or a somewhat enlarged ego.

 

Users are incapable of editing

By editing, I mean delete, mostly. This is not unrelated to the previous point: it’s a matter of ego. Not all your thoughts and words are golden, or even relevant. Not every chart is excellent. Bald repetition is boring. You don’t want elaborate prose. Those cute animations and clipart are distracting, if not embarrassing.

Samuel Johnson, who was not short in the ego department, has good advice:

 

Read your own compositions, and when you meet a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.

 

Now this ain’t easy. Good writers will tell you that editing is bloody difficult. You will need to painfully scrape and chip away, over and over again. This also takes a lot of time. Don’t create your presentation on the plane on the way to the meeting, no matter how confident you are.

A final favorite quote is Pascal’s  apology for the length of a letter:

 

The present letter is a very long one, simply because I had no time to make it shorter.

 

So there it is, gentle reader: all this trouble with PowerPoint is really you. Please try to do better in the future.

 

Konrad Schroth
Konrad began in computing and communications in the 60s. His career in software development and startups eventually evolved to consulting and marketing. Now semi-retired, he writes on presenting and PowerPoint techniques and helps clients build better presentations.
Konrad Schroth
Konrad Schroth

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