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Avoiding the PowerPoint Plague

By Joe Walsh and Nanther Thangarajah
June 17, 2011
Avoiding the PowerPoint Plague

What You Will Learn:

1. Common PowerPoint usage mistakes
2. Ideas and sources of inspiration to make your presentation more powerful and unique

We love this quote shared by one of our design colleagues in a recent email to everyone in our studio.

“PowerPoint: boring app used by people who neither have power nor point”
- Paulo Coelho

Few pieces of software are more relied upon in business and more derided than PowerPoint. You certainly know why. More often than not…

  • the slides presented to us are prepared for reading, not scanning and suffer from too many words per slide
  • they tend to be horizontally formatted, written documents instead of a visual presentation aid
  • the charts and graphs double as an eye exam that the presenter acknowledges by saying “I’m sorry you can’t read this”
  • the other images, clip art, sounds and transitions can look and feel cheesy
  • and the templates employed are often tired, rote or simply too similar.

Yes, we’ve all met and sat through this problem, but what about the cure? Here are a few ideas and suggestions: 

1. Recognize that slides support the presenter, not the other way around

An audience in a new business pitch or a seminar is there to learn from or take the measure of you. They can download and read a proposal or white paper on their own time. You can use PowerPoint, but don’t feel you have to. Sometimes, it’s more powerful to just stand there, mic in hand—just you, your notes, your delivery and your audience .

2. Seek inspiration on the web

Between YouTube, SlideShare, TED and a host of other resources, information graphics, good ideas and approaches are not far from your fingertips. We also go to sites like PresentationZen for presentation tips, tricks and theories.

3. Tell stories and endeavor to entertain

One colleague refers to marketing as a giant cocktail party, asserting: Those who tell the best stories get remembered. The same goes with pitches and presentations (even technical presentations). Storytelling is a long appreciated memory aid. And stories are told by people, not by PowerPoint.

4. Go boldly where others have not gone

Avoid the built-in templates. They tend to be used, repeatedly, by the masses. Once something seems familiar, you’re going to lose your audience to visual fatigue, or worse, disinterest. If you’re feeling spry, try using another application to create your presentation. There’s Keynote, if you’re using a Mac, or if you lead a life online (who doesn’t these days), any number of spiffy online tools can help. Try SlideRocket or Prezi. Video editing tools are another option for those who dare to be different.

5. Invest in a custom-designed template

Done right, a series of polished and flexible templates specify more than the proper font size and logo placement. They make your content stage-worthy. We prefer fully scripted and designed approaches, but even something as basic as master slides and their proper application can help deliver visual consistency and proper branding on your slides. Also, keep some conventions in mind to help “train” the audience on what to expect, like standardized fonts, accurate alignment or consistent image sizes.

6. Hold your work up for judgment, and learn from feedback

Post your presentation to SlideShare, or YouTube and leave comments open. Sure you’re going to get some trolling (it’s the Internet, after all), but if you ask for honest feedback, folks will respond, and help you, so you can be a better presenter with more effective slides.

Remember: whether it’s an idea, information or your master plan to start a Waffle-On-A-Stick franchise, the communication tools you use in presentations, are just that. Tools. They are not the presentation. PowerPoint can make some points much more powerful, but it can also get in the way. In the end, if you take the tools away, your delivery and personality need to stand on their own.