Slow, lingering death by PowerPoint

Don’t get me wrong. I love the PowerPoints. I’ve used many, many PowerPoints in all of my companies. But there are problems with PowerPoints. I’m talking a lot of problems. Huge problems. Though some, I assume, are good PowerPoints.

Many folks have taken on the issue of bad PowerPoint in more detail then I will here. Here’s one example. And another.

But, given what I do for a living, I am both the recipient of, and the one who delivers, a large number of presentations. In my experience when PowerPoints fail there are usually two issues: a lack of audience connection and a failure to tell a story worth remembering and worth remarking upon.

Connection is about emotion. Despite this, all too often our presentations are mind-numbing recitations of facts laid out in a seemingly logical order. Sometimes we even feel the need to jam more words and numbers on a page to show how much great data we have. Resist this temptation. Also, if you want to connect to your audience, just about the worst thing you can do is to read your slides to us. Find the emotional hook; find that place where the audience is likely to care deeply, not just think critically.

Despite how clever your graphics are–and regardless of the polished death march of a presentation that seems to equate slide count with insight–the stark reality is that we’re only going to remember 2 or 3 things (if you’re lucky). Your job is to make sure they are the right things. And we are far more likely to remember a story than your well-reasoned argument; far more willing to share an “I’ve got to tell someone about this” finding, than a set of facts and figures, no matter how statistically significant.

One final point. Less is often more. Stories typically resonate better when they are crisp, concise and clear. The more we pile on, the more likely we are to obfuscate.

The Gettysburg Address was 272 words (shorter than this post) and caused Edward Everett, the chief speaker at the Gettysburg cemetery dedication and the one who followed Lincoln, to remark: “I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”

H/T to Marvin Ellison

2 thoughts on “Slow, lingering death by PowerPoint

  1. Couldn’t agree more, Steve… I’d suggest adding the other PowerPoint disasters – it’s a bad way to report data.

    Don’t know if you Edward Tufte’s work on data. After NASA involved him in the analysis of each of the Shuttle disasters, he determined that the use of PowerPoint to present analysis had contributed to both disasters… Here’s a link to one of the reports he authored.

    I’d also suggest this longer article:

    Tufte’s criticism reflects a different purpose than your post, but both are of issue. I suspect that corporate use of PowerPoint to report what should be in written reports is as extraordinary problem as is the way message can become lost amid bullet points (as you note). Both are serious issues.

    I didn’t see it in these articles, but Tufte’s has shown how a simple cancer rate table would require 100 slides if translated into PowerPoint – losing all opportunity to perceive relationships and strategic jumps.

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