When bullets can kill: Missing the point of PowerPoint

Most of us have sat through countless turgid seminars, talks and sales pitches using slides generated by Microsoft PowerPoint. Having presented hundreds myself, I was drawn to an article in the New York Times quoting a US Army General slating the ubiquitous software as the “enemy within”!

“PowerPoint makes us stupid”, said Gen. James N. Mattis, Joint Forces Commander in Afghanistan. “It can create the illusion of understanding and control, when some problems are just not bulletizable.”

If you forgive the crazy made-up adjective at the end of that statement, there is a serious message here for your next presentation.

You see, communication should be designed to transfer emotion, to make your audience understand why you’re excited, passionate or otherwise concerned about your topic.

If all you want to do is create a list of facts and figures, save everyone time by sending them a report to read, and cancel the meeting.

On the other hand, if you’ve got a genuinely captivating pitch which needs a two-way forum, here are a few ideas for getting your (power) point across!

1 – Don’t put your cue cards on the screen; have them in your hand! Nobody wants to hear you recite what they’ve read 5 seconds earlier.

2 – Make your slides reinforce your message and provide a backdrop to your words.

3 – Use pictures and videos. As a visual medium, PowerPoint is ideal for displaying powerful images, which, as everyone knows, speak a thousand words each! Embedded video-bytes can really liven things up too.

4 – Minimise bullet points, and keep text to no more than 10 words per slide.

Image
WORLD’S WORST POWERPOINT SLIDE 2011

5 – Make loads of slides and keep up the pace. Internet-spoiled attention spans are way shorter now than when PP was first invented!

6 – Create a handout which doesn’t simply copy your presentation. If your slides could have the same impact when read later by anyone else, you didn’t need to be there at all! The takeaway should be text-rich and full of memorable information. Tell them you will be doing this, so your audience is not heads-down writing notes all day.

7 – Get feedback. Whether it’s via verbal questions on the day, or a request to complete a written document in the handout, you need to know what impact you’ve had on your audience.

Who knows, maybe you too will be able to avoid giving the type of presentations which the US military refer to as “Hypnotising chickens”!

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8 thoughts on “When bullets can kill: Missing the point of PowerPoint

  1. Don’t know if you’ve Ever used Prezi. Is fantastic to move and zoom between big numbers that wow as you talk…. Is a nice move on from PP.

    Great post, I have been close to death so many times with PP……. Liven it up, or don’t use it.

  2. Good advice. I’ve tried to put my presentations on PP but just have too much data, so I use a handout instead. But your point about using pictures to illustrate the highlights is well taken.

    • Thanks for reading, Nancy. Multi-media is the key to a memorable presentation IMO. Video, images, text, plus live speech and question/answer sessions are all part of what makes it fun for me. Then handouts summarising (or even elaborating on) what you covered will keep everyone hungry for more. Another over-arching rule I make for myself is to inform only to the point where the audience is curious to find out more. If I tell them everything at a presentation, they have no reason to engage any further with me. For me, the seminar medium is perfect for making hot prospects from a warm crowd. Thanks again, and I’ll be subscribing to your blog (implicit request: subscribe to mine…).

  3. Great post, Jonny. Even though way back when I was a college lecturer, never in my life have I ever used power point. I completely agree with the General’s opinion and why would any want to put their students through that? I much prefer to interact with them x

    • Thanks for reading Suzie. I think PP has its place as a communication tool, but it’s certainly over-used when other media (such as talking to each other) could be more appropriate. I’ve subscribed to your blog, so let’s keep in touch. Don’t feel obliged to subscribe to mine. (Grrr) Jonny

  4. Yoshiki says:

    Nice post, jonny. I am going to have many chances to present theses on PP from now on because I am college student. I will be mindful of your contribution.

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