PowerPoint gets truly dreadful press. Tap the phrase 'Death by PowerPoint' into a search engine and you get over 134 million results. There are books, videos, blogs and TED Talks all dedicated to the topic. Dig a little deeper and search ‘PowerPoint is Evil’ (yes, really) and you’ll get just under 14 million results, most of which refer to an academic rant by a chap called Edward Tufte… don’t get me started.
In short, it would seem that people are lining up to malign PowerPoint...
Yet despite all this negativity, PowerPoint remains by far the most popular tool used by presenters across the world. Indeed, the much-quoted stat that over 30 million PowerPoint presentations are created every day is probably a little conservative.
I wager one of the main reasons is the ease by which PowerPoint turns mere mortals into presentation designers. It comes equipped with a wide range of features; from suggested layouts and 3D effects through to the ever-useful set of SmartArt layouts, meaning that any of us with a few hours spare can attempt to craft a passable designed presentation deck. Some clever internal AI from within PowerPoint coupled with some online inspiration means that the average PowerPoint slideshow is (slowly) evolving. That’s right, folks – slides today are prettier than those of 10 years ago… and PowerPoint is responsible.
So why the continued PowerPoint witch-hunt? Here’s the rub – pretty slides are not the panacea many have been led to believe (including Edward Tufte). Style over substance never works, as perfectly demonstrated with this advert by Mercedes:
Despite the ever-growing list of clever design-focused widgets that sit within PowerPoint, presentations rely on three elements to work successfully – the Presentation Holy Trinity:
This is seen by most people as the glamorous side of presentations. It’s the element that is most fun to experiment with (Prezi anyone?), and provides that nice endorphin rush when you get it right (finding the perfect image, fancy font or cool animation).
Yet great design in isolation won’t deliver the emotional audience connection that is the mark of a great presentation. This is where the other two elements come into play...
This is at the other end of the glamour/fun scale. Strong presentation messages take time, persistence and, on occasion, pure slog to get to. They need crafting, finessing and testing to get the right presentation story. Yes, building a strong message is hard work BUT it’s also incredibly powerful when you get it right. It’s the part of the presentation your audience will remember long after you’ve spoken. It’s the element that will be relayed by your audience to other people. It’s the ingredient that prompts action and drives change.
In short, it’s worth persisting with to get it right. It also makes building the third element of the trinity a lot easier…
Despite what the headline grabbing blogs and magazine articles may say, ‘Death by PowerPoint’ happens when your audience is overwhelmed by too much information delivered in a confusing or verbose manner. Granted, horrible graphics and too much text don’t help but the truth is that ‘Death by PowerPoint’ is the natural response to there being way too much content. The ability to edit a presentation down to only include the content needed by the audience to understand the message is key to ensuring presentation success.
Clarity and confidence around your message allows your content to pretty much pick itself – if it’s not helping understanding or supporting your message, either ditch it or place in an appendix.
In much the same way as wacky animations and ‘interesting’ fonts, when it comes to content, less is more.
In conclusion, PowerPoint is far from perfect (show me a piece of software that is) but it’s also far from ‘evil’. The problem sits firmly with the presenter and the focus they dedicate to slide design versus the other parts of the Presentation Holy Trinity. If you need some extra support, consider our presentation training to assist you.
Our advice on beating Death by PowerPoint? If you ever find yourself being sucked into hours of slide design and tweaking, ask yourself one simple question; what is it you want your audience to remember? Your message or your PowerPoint smarts?