How NOT to let PowerPoint Kill Your Presentation

PowerPoint is very popular in certain circles. In fact in some organizations a presentation can't be given without it. But I invite you here to take a second look at the use of PowerPoint because:

  • It's overused
  • It can be confusing
  • It can be a crutch for insecurity
  • It can be a mask for poor content
  • It can be an overload on your audience
  • It can put your audience automatically to sleep

    Edward Tuft, who's written several books on displaying information visually, is an advocate against PowerPoint. "As consumers of presentations," he wrote, "you should not trust speakers who rely on the PP cognitive style. It is likely that these speakers are simply serving up PowerPointPhluff to mask their lousy content."

    Lousy content or insecurity. When I first started presenting I used it because it's a crutch to rely on, and a mask to hide behind. It's like memorizing a speech, or reading it from notes. It gives complete control because there's no space for those disconcerting questions you can't answer when you're inexperienced.

    Tufte writes about Lou Gerstner, on his first day as president of IBM. At a meeting, he switched off the projector and said to the presenter, "Let's just talk about your business."

    If you use PowerPoint as a crutch would this not be alarming?

    Suddenly you'd be called upon to know your subject well enough to just chat about it. I'm reminded of my grad school professor who said, "If you can't explain this stuff to your next-door neighbor, you don't know it."

    I do use PowerPoint, and effectively, and I've seen effective use of PowerPoint, but let's first talk about why it isn't good to use.

  • It's overused, and expected, so we tune out.
  • It's a sensual sleepdown - the whir of the machine, the progressing of the slides, the hum of the voice as it reads something . zzz .
  • I have never seen anyone give a fully read PowerPoint or slide presentation who wasn't tied to their umbilical cord.
  • When it came time for discussion, they didn't know their subject matter.


  • Outstanding for graphs and financial data.
  • Excellent for emotion - photographs and art. A picture is worth a thousand words for emotional appeal.
  • Good for a change of pace to wake your audience up suddenly.
  • You can use it interactively - put questions up there that need answering.
  • Variety.
  • Words in another language.
  • Geography.


    We've ruled out rote use of PP - just reading a laundry list. Here is how to use the PowerPoint if you're going to.


    When you do use it for graphs or data, put up your data and give them time to look at it for a moment before you slowly talk through the figures. Some people know how to read a spreadsheet quickly. Others do not.

    On the other hand, if you want to push something over on your Board, as I've seen done, blitz through it, because a spreadsheet on a screen is not easy to "grasp" quickly. Beware the rapid flipper of slides where data is concerned.


    I could not have raised funds for the homeless without the emotional appeal of photographs. Most of us would rather not see suffering. Words are easily tuned out, and numbers are only numbers.

    For emotional appeal, make your point and then put your photograph up there. You can talk about "homelessless" or you can show a homeless child on the streets. Point taken? If you use this, give it time. Allow the photograph up there much longer than your busy planning left-brain would like. The reason you're using it is because it has impact. Therefore LET IT HAVE IMPACT.


    PP can be used effectively for "befores" and "afters". If you're proposing a new greenspace for your complex, perhaps a habitat (which can save your corporation lots of money, BTW), consider photographs.

    It works emotionally in the other direction as well. The Russians will never forget what the Germans did to St. Petersburg and there are plenty of "before" and "after" photos in the museums to remind the tourists. Did I mention EMOTIONAL IMPACT?


    Photographs and metaphoric graphics (money falling from the skies, women leaping over obstacles, the scales of justice) are excellent for illustrating concepts. If you use photographs, use the best. Sites such as offer excellent royalty-free photographs.

    If you are talking about team work, put a picture up there of a crisp photo of a team that appears to be organized, getting along, and positive in attitude. You could call it "suggestive" or "subliminal".

    I give a presentation on innate Strengths, a la StrengthsFinder® profile from Buckingham and Clifton. They have names such as Focus, Activator, Analytic, Strategic, Relator, and Connectedness. I've found photographs of people who illustrate these concepts that are pure Eye Candy. They have been well-received. I talk the concept, but I let them stare at the photograph. What gets into the right brain stays there (see The EQ Foundation Course on my website.) is a great source for images.

    If you use graphics, use excellent ones. It's worth paying for them. If you only have 3rd generation graphics, blurred and cheap-looking, you're better off not using any at all. They make exactly the wrong impression, whatever impression you're trying to make.


    In any presentation it's good to change style because it wakes your audience up. You can count of many different learning styles in your audience, and it's good to give each group something. There are different categorizations of learning styles, but consider listening, reading, moving around and touching things, interacting, and creating something.


    When Baby Boomers were in school, they listened to a teacher/lecturer and either looked at him or her, or took notes. For this group, PowerPoint can be "overstimulating."

    Another large group in today's work place grew up with Sesame Street and treat instructors like a television set, much less PowerPoint. As Ask the Expert for ActiveProNews, I've received more than one letter from college professors who say the students talk, eat, relax and socialize while they try to lecture, as if they were stretched out at home in front of the television set. For this group, PowerPoint is way "understimulating." They don't give it any respect.

    IN SUM, don't use PowerPoint just because everyone always does. Have a reason.

    If you use it, use it judiciously, and well, and use first-class art. Visual images can be as effective as stories, in their impact, and are an emotionally intelligent way to present.

    Try varying your presentation and make absolutely sure you could give your whole presentation without the PowerPoint. Otherwise you're faking it, and your audience will know it.

    Lastly, here's a word from someone who's been in the trenches. At least once in your lifetime you'll show up and the PowerPoint machine won't be there!

    © Susan Dunn, marketing coach, Ebook writing and launch, web strategies, marketing and promotion, press releases, web design, article-writing and submission. Full-service, consultation and implementation, advice and resources. for free ezine, put "checklist" for subject line.

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